Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with William Green Miller
By: Kourosh Ziabari
Sunday 26 April 2015. Iran and the six world powers are moving closer to singing a historic deal that will bring a happy and peaceful end to more than one decade of dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. Almost all the details regarding the foundation of a comprehensive nuclear accord were agreed upon in the Swiss city of Lausanne on April 2, and the Iranian negotiating team is talking to interlocutors from the United States, three European countries (Britain, France and Germany), Russia and China to work out the text of the comprehensive agreement that is due to be signed on June 30.
Although the Congressional hawks in Washington, Israel and some Arab states in the Persian Gulf seem to be nervous about the possibility of a final resolution of Iran’s nuclear standoff and the specter of a powerful, strong Iran revived through the removal of the biting economic sanctions, there are many Americans who have openly voiced their support for the deal, believing that an agreement over the nuclear dossier would mark a starting point for the further collaborations with Iran on issues of mutual interest, academic, cultural and financial exchanges and a broader detente.
William Green Miller is one of these Americans who believe Iran and the United States have much to benefit from each other and need to come together once again after four decades of frosty ties. Miller was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 1993 to 1998 under President Bill Clinton. He is a Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. From 1959 to 1964, he served as a diplomat in the U.S. consulate in Isfahan. Amb. Miller has been a Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he has also served as the President of the American Committee on United States-Soviet Relations.
Amb. Miller tells Iran Review that Iran is a great part of the world civilization, and it’s the pure intention of President Obama and his cabinet to engage in civilized relations with Iran. He calls Iran one of the most stable nations in the region and stresses that the leaders of Iran have made it clear that they have no plans for developing nuclear weapons, so the essence and logic of the sanctions against Iran have now come into question, and there’s no need to prolong and keep them in place. The renowned diplomat talks of his old friendship with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and states that he is impressed with the quality of the Iranian negotiation team.
Iran Review talked to Amb. William Green Miller about his years in Iran as a diplomat, the 1953 coup d’état against the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and its impacts on the Iranian people’s attitude towards the U.S. government, the ongoing nuclear talks and the future of Iran-U.S. relations. Here is the full transcript of the interview.
Q: You came to Iran in 1959, six years after the coup d’état that removed the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh from power. What was your perception toward the coup at the time when you were in Iran? What did your contacts tell you about that? Was it a right decision to topple the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh?
A: Well, as an American diplomat, I learned about the realities of the coup d’état in Iran. I knew only the outlines of the action; I was in the university at the time of the overthrow of Mosaddegh in 1953. I think that the decision, based on the evidence that I learned from most Iranians that were there, was a huge mistake. It was contrary to the American principles of governance and democratic rights and that in no way would have my support as I had anything to do with it. We have paid the costs, both in Iran and the United States, as the result of that action, which set back democratic possibility in Iran until the revolution in 1979.
Q: Do you agree with the point that it was that decision in participating in overthrowing Mosaddegh that contributed to the emergence of some kind of skepticism towards the United Sates in Iranians and played a role in making Iranians pessimistic toward the United States, spoiling the future of bilateral relations between Tehran and Washington?
A: Yes, I agree entirely that the action in 1953 harmed the good relations that had existed from the 19th century up until that time and was a huge mistake translated into such an action. It is a major reason for the antipathy that exists towards the United States and we should do everything possible to correct that.
Q: Right, and you somewhere talked about the role the Ostandar or the Governor General of Isfahan had played in the coup and the things you heard from him. Would you please tell us about that more?
A: Yes, the Governor General or the Ostandar of Isfahan at the time was a general in the military under Zahedi and he was involved in the actions that led to the coup. And he told me about it, and of course others in Iran who were knowledgeable told me about the details. And I believe that it was a mistake for the United States to make that decision and getting involved in that action. That’s what I have to say.
Q: Well, we are currently at a juncture in the history of mutual relations between Iran and the United States when there is the possibility of an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program that some analysts believe can pave the way for the further reconciliation between the two nations. What do you think about the chances of Iran and the United States coming together once again, resolving the differences and restoring some normal relations after some four decades?
A: Well, after four decades of isolation from each other, it’s now the time to have civilized relations. And what I mean by civilized relations? I mean the normal exchange of peoples, trade and commerce delegations, university exchanges, medical exchanges, film, poetry, all of the arts; we have much to benefit from each other. And I know this, having lived in Iran for five years, and any time after that time, that Iranian civilization is a great part of the world civilization and that we should share our fruits of civilization whenever possible. I have two sons who were born in Iran and I have great affection for your country and believe that we have much to benefit from each other.
Q: Perfect! You know, there is something that makes some Iranian officials and politicians somewhat doubtful regarding the usefulness of relations with the United States, which is the fact that the U.S. administrations in the past had openly declared that their intention is to implement a regime change plan in Iran, especially under President George W. Bush. So, do you think that this is still the strategy of the U.S. government under President Obama, or do you think that things have changed and the U.S. government is intent upon building partnership with Iran based on mutual respect and without having the intention of implementing a regime change plan?
A: I think the intention of the Obama administration is to have civilized relations with Iran, in which Iran makes its own choice of government and its major direction. That is the view of the Obama administration that a nuclear agreement, in which Iran has full rights to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and has of course forsworn the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons, would serve as a sound basis for friendly relations.
Q: Do you think that a Republican Congress or a possible Republican president after Mr. Obama can annul and undermine the deal that is going to be concluded in the coming weeks or months between Iran and the six world powers including the United States? A group of U.S. Senators have sent a letter to Iranian government saying that any president coming after Mr. Obama would revoke any deal between Iran and the P5+1 and the nuclear agreement will not be binding anymore after Mr. Obama leaves office. So, do you think that it’s possible that the Congress will kill the chances of such a deal or the new president can annul the nuclear agreement?
A: No, I don’t think so, because it’s a fact that this is one of the longest negotiations in the world history; it really goes way beyond the nuclear question. It’s the issue of Iran’s place in the world. As a revolutionary society, it has proven to be one of the most stable nations in the region and it has made certainly remarkable developments in education, health and all of the aspects of a civilized nation, and it deserves to have a major say in the outcome of events in the region as well as the world. It’s a great nation and we should share the benefits of two nations when people living together in peace.
Q: Personally, are you optimistic that the nuclear deal can be finalized after the statement that was read out in Lausanne in Switzerland on April 2? Do you believe that the negotiating partners, Iran and the United States from one hand and the European trio and Russia and China on the other hand, have the willingness and the political determination to resolve the nuclear controversy and finally come to a comprehensive nuclear agreement?
A: Yes, I think so, because they are fully aware of the technical details, and all of them can be effectively resolved with the application of goodwill and conscience. The position of Iran is unmistakably clear. It has no nuclear weapons; it will not build any nuclear weapons in the future; it will not contribute to nuclear weapons elsewhere in the world, and that is a very sound basis for an agreement. The agreement can be enforced by the IAEA, and the knowledge of the rest of the world through intelligence abilities is a proof that if Iran for any reason changes its position on nuclear weapons, the world would know. But I think the Iranian position, which is based on a religious belief and human compassion is a very sound basis for believing that an agreement will be honored in the future.
Q: So, almost two years after Mr. Rouhani took office as the President of Iran, how do you see the state of Iran-U.S. relations? Have there been any openings and breakthroughs in melting the ice of diplomatic relations? Well, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have conferred and held meetings on a number of occasions several times. Do you think that it is a good sign that the relations between Iran and the United States will improve in the future and this is a starting point for further rapprochement?
A: Yes, I think so. I know both Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif well. I’ve known Foreign Minister Zarif for over ten years, and having served in the Europe, I met with him many times. I’m very impressed with his ability, and the quality of the Iranian negotiation team is absolutely first class. They have done an outstanding job of building trust and confidence in their word and strongly proved human contact that diplomacy succeeds. And there has been extensive and intensive human contact over the past several years, not to mention the past 38 years since the revolution.
Q: Well, let’s move on to the next question that is regarding one of the sensitive issues in the nuclear talks. Many critics of President Obama and his administration including the Conservatives in the Congress and people like Ambassador John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and Jed Babbin have attacked the U.S. President for what they consider to be his leniency on Iran, refusing to take note of Israel’s security concerns during the course of negotiations. I think President Obama is under some pressure himself and has to justify a possible comprehensive agreement to the Congressmen, to the neo-cons and the hardliners on the American political stratum. Does he face a difficult job doing so? And do you think that a comprehensive deal will undermine President Obama’s position given the fact that he’s already under great deal of pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to refuse concluding a deal with Iran?
A: No, I think Obama has taken the right decision, a very courageous decision to embrace the agreement and it’s a very good agreement that will result in further, better relations between the United States and Iran and Iran and the rest of the world. And that’s the purpose of peaceful diplomacy, and I think in this case it has finally, after four decades, succeeded. And we can look for a growing closeness between the two nations and peoples.
Q: You know that Israel is the most important ally of the United States in the Middle East and the closest U.S. friend perhaps in this part of the world. Mr. Netanyahu has reaffirmed that he’s opposed to any kind of deal between Iran and the United States. He says that Iran should not have any nuclear capability whatsoever, even for civilian purposes, while President Obama insists that he would be defending the deal he’s singing with Iran and that he is sure such a deal would make the United States and the whole world more secure. What do you think about this conflict between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over Iran? Do you think that the U.S. is going to defy Israel over the deal?
A: We all know that friends sometimes disagree and in this case, the interests of the United States and the world are compelling and the agreement will benefit Israel’s security as well in the future, because it will contribute, in the long run, to a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, and Iran has made it clear that it will support whatever position the Palestinians take. The two-state solution for the Palestinian crisis remains to be concluded, and a peace settlement with Iran only can contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East, including the security of Israel.
Q: Some Arab states in the Persian Gulf region seem to be somewhat fearful and anxious regarding the possibility of a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers including the United States. For example, some officials in Saudi Arabia including their foreign minister Saud Al Faisal have emphasized that such an agreement with Iran would be a dangerous thing. They have made some statements indicating that they are worried about the outcome of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States. Why do you think they are so apprehensive?
A: Well, you know the region better than I do, but it’s a rivalry between nations which is normal and there are peaceful solutions to all of these problems. Iran has made clear that it has no territorial ambitions outside of its borders and that its purpose in the world is to create better conditions for its people and to have good relations with all nations. I know something about the nations in the Persian Gulf, having been there over the years and there is no reason why peaceful relations between the countries and respect for mutual interests cannot be achieved. And I know that Iran’s intention is to further the interest of its people first and to conduct good relations with all nations including the United States. And I hope this will take place.
Q: One of the sticking points in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 including the United States is the issue of sanctions and the removal of the sanctions; and one of the main reasons Iran is insisting on extension of the negotiations until the conclusion of a final deal is that Iran wants the sanctions to be removed immediately and all at once, altogether. So, do you think that the U.S. government has the sufficient authority and the sufficient jurisdiction to remove the sanctions especially those that were endorsed by the Congress? And do you think that the hardliners inside the administration and inside the Congress in the Capitol Hill will allow such a thing to happen, i.e. the immediate removal of the sanctions in return for the confidence-building measures by Iran?
A: Yes, I do. I do think so even though it is extremely complicated, a really complicated procedure. The logic of the sanctions was against the possibility of nuclear weapons development. And the agreement makes it clear that Iran will have no nuclear weapons development and the logic of the sanctions comes into question. The purpose of the sanctions has been achieved and they should be lifted, and they will be, if the agreement is carried out. There is no purpose to the sanctions follow on.
Q: Yeah, but there seems to be some kind of haggling over the issue of sanctions. For example, the Iranian negotiating team says that, ok, we take the confidence-building measure; we halt the five percent enrichment of uranium and we take all the other measures that are endorsed in the final comprehensive agreement, but the United States should remove the sanctions all at once. This is the statement of President Rouhani who said that Iran will not sign a deal that does not entail the “termination” of the sanctions at the first day of the inking of the deal, while Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the sanctions would be removed on a phased basis. Why do you think that the two sides are making such conflicting statements while the Lausanne declaration has clearly underlined that all the nuclear-related sanctions including the UN Security Council resolutions would be annulled and terminated? Do you think that the two parties will finally come to some kind of understanding regarding this?
A: I think you used the correct word for this situation: “haggling over details”. The principles of the agreement are understood, the outcome is understood; Iran does not have nuclear weapons and will not have any; that is the agreement. And the sanctions will be lifted accordingly and the art of diplomacy is to work out the details. And the quality of the diplomats on both sides is substantial and they should be able to achieve that goal.
Q: Right, and the final question: well, it’s been a long time since you ended your career in Iran as a diplomat. Do you think that you can once again return to Iran, maybe as a visiting scholar or a tourist just to see how Iran has developed and what changes have taken place in these years? Do you think of a future visit to Iran to talk to people and talk to your old friends here?
A: Yes, I hope and expect to come to Iran to see what progress has been made and to return to visit friends who have remained friends throughout the years and to show my sons the land in which they were born. And I have great memories, favorable memories of my years that I lived in Iran and look forward to seeing Iran again and its present situation.
Key Words: Obama Administration, Civilized Relations, Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, Coup d’état, Republican Congress, Nuclear Agreement, IAEA, Iran-U.S. Relations, John Kerry, Minister Javad Zarif, Middle East, Israel, Arab States, P5+1, Sanctions, President Rouhani, Green Miller