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Iran’s top diplomat strikes defiant tone ahead of Geneva talks

MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have tried to tamp down the rhetoric against Iran in her speech Friday night here in Bahrain, but Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki‘s speech Saturday morning was the same critical and defiant line his government has been taking for months. Here at the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, ...

Joshua Rogin / Foreign Policy
Joshua Rogin / Foreign Policy
Joshua Rogin / Foreign Policy

MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have tried to tamp down the rhetoric against Iran in her speech Friday night here in Bahrain, but Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's speech Saturday morning was the same critical and defiant line his government has been taking for months.

Here at the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, the Clinton and Mottaki speeches were the most closely watched. Clinton's speech was well received; the Arab Gulf country representatives we spoke with all said they thought she projected an open and welcoming message. They noted that she made statements on Iran's right to nuclear energy while avoiding the usual U.S. criticisms of the regime many expected.

Mottaki's speech, however, was devoid of the kind of signals that might reassure Gulf or American diplomats that Iran was moving toward concessions or a warming of ties. The speech came only two days before Iran returns to the table to discuss its nuclear program with the P5+1 countries in Geneva.

MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have tried to tamp down the rhetoric against Iran in her speech Friday night here in Bahrain, but Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki‘s speech Saturday morning was the same critical and defiant line his government has been taking for months.

Here at the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, the Clinton and Mottaki speeches were the most closely watched. Clinton’s speech was well received; the Arab Gulf country representatives we spoke with all said they thought she projected an open and welcoming message. They noted that she made statements on Iran’s right to nuclear energy while avoiding the usual U.S. criticisms of the regime many expected.

Mottaki’s speech, however, was devoid of the kind of signals that might reassure Gulf or American diplomats that Iran was moving toward concessions or a warming of ties. The speech came only two days before Iran returns to the table to discuss its nuclear program with the P5+1 countries in Geneva.

Mottaki repeatedly disputed the idea that Arab countries were concerned and opposed to Iran’s nuclear program, as was communicated to American diplomats and revealed in the disclosures of diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks.

"Muslims must be happy to see other Muslims becoming powerful," he said, rejecting the idea that Arab countries are suspicious of Iran. "Our power is your power," he told the Arab leaders assembled. "We must not allow the Western media to tell us what to think of each other."

He called the government of Israel a "counterfeit regime" and dismissed its establishment as an "excuse to provide a home for the victims of the second WorldWar."

Regarding the nuclear talks themselves, Mottaki questioned whether it would really be a dialogue or just a lecture from the United States. He declared that the U.S.-led international sanctions on Iran are having no effect, directly contradicting Clinton.

"If the other side believes they need more time to see the results of the sanctions, they can have more time. The sanctions have nothing to do with us and don’t have an effect on our resolve," he said.

Mottaki pointed back to Iran’s agreement with Turkey and Brazil for a fuel-swap arrangement but chastised Obama for rejecting that deal. He also said he saw no signs the Obama administration had done anything different in the Gulf region.

"We believe that the policies of President Obama are the same as President Bush’s policies," he said. "We have two years of performance of President Obama in our region. Are we really seeing any kind of changes in the approaches of the Americans?"

In what some saw as a new concession by Iran, Mottaki explicitly endorsed the idea of an international fuel bank to manage and disperse nuclear fuel for civilian uses. But he had one heck of a caveat.

"We’re in agreement with the creating of a fuel bank and we support that," he said. "And since we are a fuel producer and we have the technology for that, then in principle a branch of that bank will be established in the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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