So it turns out that Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif doesn’t think Western leaders are idiots after all. Despite what some media reports have said (and what some of us stupidly just picked up without checking), he wasn’t linking sanctions relief to fighting IS in Iraq yesterday, he was linking relief to modifying the heavy water reactor at Arak:
On Wednesday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif was interviewed by Iranian state television. Reports about what he said in the interview provided quite the adventure yesterday. Here is Reuters this morning trying to sort out just what took place:
On Thursday a story from the official Iranian News Agency (IRNA) cited by several news organizations including Reuters reported Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as saying that if Iran agreed to “do something in Iraq, the other side in the negotiations will need to do something in return”.
“All the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities should be lifted in return for its help in Iraq,” it quoted him as saying.
But later on Thursday IRNA reported foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as dismissing “reports by some news agencies about Iran and U.S. cooperation in Iraq”.
“These reports are a misinterpretation of the foreign ministerˈs remarks and are ‘totally baseless’,” IRNA reported her as saying.
So what did Zarif actually say? Here is PressTV’s translation of the sentence in question:
“If we agree to do certain things at [the nuclear facility in the Iranian city of] Arak, then they should agree to do certain things in return; one of those things would be for them to go to the [UN] Security Council and lift the sanctions,” Zarif stated.
Here’s the video with subtitles:
It’s obvious from the context of the interview that Zarif is talking about the nuclear negotiations and Arak. There’s nothing about Iraq in that discussion. Now, obviously “Iraq” and “Arak” are similar sounding words (the initial short vowels are easy to confuse, and while the final consonants are distinctive sounds, at the end of a word and with a long “aa” sound in front of them, they can sound close enough to be mistaken for one another), and indeed the name “Arak” was probably a corruption of “Iraq,” but it’s not clear to me why the person doing the subtitles went with Iraq (عراق) and put Arak (اراک) in brackets, when there’s no contextual reason to think Zarif is talking about Iraq and, in fact, he’d just mentioned Arak a few seconds earlier. I don’t know why Mehr News, which is an official state news agency, would have gone with Iraq in its transcript of the interview (in Persian; search on “عراق” and you’ll find it) when in the context of the nuclear negotiations Arak is far more applicable. So I’m not going to rag on the US media for getting the story wrong, since Iranian media didn’t do much better, and neither did regional Arab media like Lebanon’s Daily Star.
The State Department is going with “Arak,” and after seeing all the context I would agree. The lesson, which FFS I should already know by now, is that when the media reports Iranian leaders saying wacky stuff, it’s always best to double-check what they’re reporting, or at least wait a couple of days while other people check it, before you comment on it.