John Bolton: The Purpose Is to Maximum Increase Sanctions Against Iran

An exclusive interview of the U.S. President Donald Trump"s National Security Advisor John Bolton with Voice of America/Turan

John Bolton in his exclusive interview with Voice of America and Turan News Agency spoke on sanctions against Iran, short and medium-range missiles treaty, security in South Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and human rights.

VOA/Turan: Welcome.

Ambassador Bolton: Glad to be here.

VOA/Turan: So we"re not going to waste any time here, so let me just go straight to the questions.

Again, thank you very much for the opportunity. And today your visit to Azerbaijan, the 24th actually, marks the 26th anniversary since the U.S. Congress has adopted the 907 Amendment. And actually the Russian Federation, Russia has actually taken a lot of advantage to use it as pretext, kind of a reason to expand its trade relations with Azerbaijan, including its trade in arms. Do you think that it"s pretty much time to repeal the 907 [Amendment]?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, you know, this is a statute adopted by Congress. It"s not necessarily entirely the policy of the executive branch. And under our constitution it"s really the President who sets foreign policy.

So on a number of occasions different Presidents have waived that provision in order to make sales, and it"s something that we look at constantly to decide what"s appropriate.

One of the purposes of my visit really was to hear directly from the President on his views on the conflict and on the broader regional and international issues that we face, and I think that will be very helpful as we look at this statute which is now quite some number of years old.

VOA/Turan: Actually the question is that Russia is taking a lot of advantage of the regional and international affairs and trying to sort of increase its image and reputation around its perimeter. So experts estimate the end of mid- and short-range missile agreements as the launch of a new arms race. And along with that

we are seeing this year that Russian Federation had very aptly demonstrated the new generation of Russian weapons. Does the U.S. take into account the security of former Soviet Union republics in a situation where Russia is pursuing its goal and actually increasing its military capabilities?

Ambassador Bolton: It"s our view that the South Caucasus is a critically important region strategically for the United States. And exemplified by Azerbaijan being the only country that borders both Russia and Iran. And one of the reasons that the President has decided to withdraw from the INF Treaty is because of Russian violations, producing and deploying missiles that can fire within the prohibited ranges of the treaty, obviously hitting potentially nearby countries.

So the risk to international peace and security comes from Russia"s violation of the treaty, not America"s withdrawal from it.

VOA/Turan: The tense situation of Russia and Iran is a key factor that directly affects the security and stability of the situation in the region, including Azerbaijan. So what do you think about the dangers that may arise in the region due to the widening of international sanctions against Iran and Russia?

Ambassador Bolton: The reason that President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal is because we didn"t feel that Iran had really made a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons, and the agreement was therefore completely ineffective.

We also believe that Iran had not ceased its threatening behavior in other areas such as its development of long-range ballistic missiles, its support for international terrorism, or its military activity in places like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

So one of the fundamental predicates of the deal, namely that Iran"s overall behavior internationally would change for the better, had also failed to materialize.

So once again, the rising tensions are due to Iran"s belligerent behavior, not America"s response to it. What we"re trying to do with our economic pressure is precisely to get Iran to change its behavior and to cease its threatening activity.

VOA/Turan: Again, the U.S. demonstration and use of international sanctions against bank accounts and oil sales against Iran could basically trigger new tensions in the region after Syria and Iraq. And naturally in Iran, which shares the long international land border with Azerbaijan and which is a home country to some ten million ethnic Azerbaijanis, these sanctions may have impact on the security and general welfare of Azerbaijanis. Have these threats been discussed during the meetings, your meetings with Azerbaijani authorities?

Ambassador Bolton: We discussed with President Aliyev exactly, and the Foreign Minister, exactly how to address the objective of putting maximum pressure on Iran without causing undue hardship to Azerbaijan. We do intend to enforce these sanctions very vigorously, more vigorously than before the Iran nuclear deal. We expect new sanctions. But we don"t want to cause harm to our friends in Azerbaijan as a result. So we"re working through these. They"re issues under discussion now. I"m confident we"ll find something that"s mutually acceptable that achieves both objectives, not causing harm to Azerbaijan but putting maximum pressure on Iran.

VOA/Turan: My other question pertains to human rights and democracy. Did you have an opportunity to discuss issues related to human rights and democracy situation and reforms in Azerbaijan during your visit to Azerbaijan and during your meetings with the Azerbaijani authorities? Because as we know, since 2006 the United States and Azerbaijan have attempted dialogue on democracy and human rights for three separate times. Will there be an attempt to revitalize democracy and human rights dialogue between the U.S. and Azerbaijan?

And also just a little amendment to the question that"s already asked, while touching upon the human rights and democracy issues, did you specifically raise the issue of RFE/RL? The reopening of the Azerbaijani service, the Baku office of RFE/RL?

Ambassador Bolton: I did discuss human rights with the President and we had a private discussion on a number of issues. I told him there"s no secret about what America"s values are. We don"t hide it.

We also recognized as President Trump said at the United Nations General Assembly that we respect sovereignty and we"re not out to lecture anybody. But I didn"t raise the question of RFE"s local office. If I"d known about it, I would have.

Back in the day my wife used to work for Radio Free Europe.

VOA/Turan: Mr. Bolton, what do you think your visit can bring in terms of peaceful settlement of conflict in the region including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? And have you exchanged views on the settlement of conflicts in the South Caucasus region during your meetings in Russia?

Ambassador Bolton: We talked here, obviously, with the President and also with different officials in Moscow who knew I was coming to the region. And one of the purposes of the visit was to help me gain a better understanding of the issues and positions of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Obviously the U.S. is one of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. We take this responsibility very seriously. We think that getting a solution that"s satisfactory to both parties is especially important, given the strategic significance of this region. So it"s something we"ll try and pay attention to and help the parties through the Minsk process.

VOA/Turan: Mr. Bolton, the Dayton Agreement back in the past actually enforced the sides of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to come to an agreement. However, speaking about the Dayton Agreement, do you think the same scenario can be applied to the sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict so that the sides of the NK conflict can be enforced into a negotiated diplomatic peace agreement?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think the issues that we face here in this conflict are really unique in many respects. I don"t like to apply comparisons to other conflicts where you"re inheriting a lot of baggage from those conflicts and what the different issues were.

So here, this is something that we have, as the United States, believed for years consistently from the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, that we"d like to see the parties reconciled. We"d like to see their autonomy and sovereignty as nations distinct from the influence of other regional actors. We"d like to see that reaffirmed, and that"s what we"d like to do in the context of the Minsk Group.

I didn"t come to change American policy here, I came to understand better what the issues were.

Thank you.



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