Tehran will not seek a resumption of diplomatic ties with Washington even if a comprehensive nuclear deal helps to defuse tensions between the two, Iran's top security official said, the Financial Times reported Dec. 22.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council said Iran's position in the region had been strengthened by its role in facilitating a peaceful change of government in Baghdad last summer, and by the survival of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, in Damascus.
Iran and the US "can behave in a way that they do not use their energy against each other [in the region]. A nuclear agreement can be very crucial in this regard," Shamkhani said.
"Everything will depend on the honesty of the Americans in the nuclear talks," he added.
But when asked whether regular meetings between Iranian and American diplomats during the nuclear talks with six powers - the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany - could lead to a rapprochement between the two countries, he replied: "No. Negotiations are only for the nuclear issue".
A Shia Arab respected by reformist and conservative politicians alike, Shamkhani is responsible for implementing regional foreign policy on behalf of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. A founding member of the Revolutionary Guards and former defense minister, he has been in the post since last year and is a key figure in foreign policy circles in Tehran.
Although he is not in charge of nuclear negotiations - unlike his predecessors - his position gives him a role in formulating decisions on the nuclear file.
Shamkhani dismissed suspicions voiced by western diplomats during nuclear talks that Ayatollah Khamenei does not genuinely support a lasting nuclear deal. "If he was looking for an excuse to break off negotiations, there was enough time to do so over the past year and a half of negotiations," he said.
Iran would not buckle under international sanctions, he said, nor would it retreat from what it saw as its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. "We will not die if there is no agreement and we will not go to heaven if we reach an agreement," he said.
Turning to neighboring Iraq, where Iran and the US face a common enemy in the Sunni jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as IS, Shamkhani refused to confirm reports of tacit co-operation with Washington. Tehran "notifies" the US of its operations in support of Shia militias through the Iraqi government, he said, but insisted that US-led air strikes were ineffective.
The change of government in Baghdad - after Tehran withdrew its support for Nouri al-Maliki, the former prime minister and backed Haider al-Abadi to replace him in August - has helped strengthen Iran's position in the region, he said.
"Today, Iraq is a closer ally of Iran than it was before because the Iraqi government and people . . . realized that Iran is their strategic depth," Shamkhani said. Syrian developments also reflected Iran's triumphs in the region.
As an Arab - rare among senior Iranian officials -Shamkhani hopes he can help reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is the only Iranian who received the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud, the highest award in Saudi Arabia, from King Fahd in 2004 for his role in defusing tensions with the Gulf Arab states.
"These misunderstandings or bitter rivalries should move from its hostile nature to natural political games," he said. But a visit to Saudi Arabia was still not planned.
The differences between the two regional enemies have deepened after the Iraq crisis. Arab and western diplomats accuse Shia militias commanded by Iran of killing Sunni civilians in military operations to free Iraqi territories. Shamkhani denied the allegations.
Shia militias, he said, were only targeting IS members. They were not intent on liberating Sunni-only territories due to resistance of civilians.
The liberation of Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city, would take time and the determination of Sunni Muslims. Asked if this could take years and whether this worried Iran, he said: "Sunnis should be worried."