As Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani is Iran's top nuclear negotiator. In an interview with The Hindu in Tehran on Saturday, he discussed Iran's nuclear programme, its relations with India and the escalating crisis in Lebanon. Excerpts:
7 August 2006
Interview with Ali Larijani:
"For the U.S., the nuclear issue of Iran is just an excuse"
N. Ram, Siddharth Varadarajan & John Cherian
Last week, the United Nations Security Council set a deadline for Iran to suspend all nuclear enrichment activities or face the threat of sanctions. What is your response?
Iran is a member of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and all our nuclear energy activities are within its framework. The International Atomic Energy Agency inspects our facilities and has installed surveillance cameras in the atomic centres where we have our activities. What we are seeking is nothing more than our legitimate rights within the framework of the NPT. Just as we have some obligations within the framework of the NPT, we also have some rights. Therefore, the UNSC resolution does not have any legal basis. When the `five plus one' countries [Britain, France, United States, Russia, China, and Germany] offered us a package [in June], they said they respected our rights. But this resolution means they don't want Iran to exercise its rights! This is illogical and unjust. The resolution means they have a different intention from the one [they said they were pursuing] when they gave the package to us. Maybe they imagine that by adopting this resolution, they will change Iran's mind. But there is no change in our stance. We [will] continue our activities...
What was the stated intention behind the package?
When Javier Solana, [the European Union's negotiator] brought the package to Tehran, it was proposed that we were going to carry forward this process. Accordingly, we established different committees to work on the proposals in the package. And it was proposed that we would express our point of view and also raise any points of ambiguity with Mr. Solana [at subsequent meetings]. But before these meetings could take place, [the 5+1] met in a hurry and then issued this resolution! Within the framework of this package, it was proposed that we would meet each other and discuss and come to a conclusion together. This resolution shows that the package was only a smokescreen.
But you met Mr. Solana in Brussels on July 11, and it was after that, on July 12, that the 5+1 met and decided to go to the Security Council.
Mr. Solana and I had only one round of discussions but we need more than one round for the package's ambiguities to be removed. Unless we remove these and come to a mutual understanding, we cannot have a solution. Maybe the 5+1 thought that by these means, they could hold this stick over our heads. They want to put pressure on us but it won't have any effect. If anything, it may lead to a very harsh reaction by us. We are always ready for just negotiations — but we don't understand negotiation under pressure!
Some European diplomats we spoke to said that in your last meeting with Mr. Solana, he expected you to seek clarifications about the package but this did not happen and this convinced him that Iran was not serious. What actually happened?
In that meeting, we said that over some issues we were in agreement with them. First, that negotiation is the basis for solving the problem. Secondly, we agreed that this package would be considered a base for starting our logical cooperation. But its capacity should be completed and its ambiguities removed so that we can have a common judgment over it.
What kind of ambiguities are you referring to?
The package has many ambiguities. For instance, it says that they are for long-term cooperation with Iran. We want to find out what they mean by long-term cooperation. Does long-term cooperation mean a relationship in all fields with Iran or only in nuclear activities? Depending on the answer, our interpretation of the package will be different. For instance, one of the provisions of this package mentions talking to Iran about regional security arrangements. Now this doesn't relate to the nuclear issue. This provision means they want to have very comprehensive negotiations with Iran. This will need its own instruments. So we raised these issues. The detailed questions needed to be taken up in another round of negotiations.
Iran had said earlier that it would give its response to the 5+1 package on August 22. Are you still going to do that?
In fact, by this action of the Security Council they have kicked out the package! So this package does not have any use. We are not in charge of this. Those who have done this act are the ones who should give their response. We have always announced that we are ready for just and constructive negotiations. But we don't accept negotiation under pressure. In many cases, they approach us for collaboration, particularly with regard to Lebanon. Their language is [full of] double standards. In one place, they are talking with force and in another place they are seeking our cooperation! If you see the attitude of the U.S. towards Israel, you can see the double standards.
We can also compare the attitude of the U.S. towards the nuclear energy programmes of Iran and India. India does not accept the NPT and has nuclear weapons. But America has no problem with this and is also concluding a long-term nuclear energy agreement with India. But we are a member of the NPT and we don't have the bomb. There is no place for it in our national security doctrine. We consider the atomic bomb a very heavy poison for us in our region. If we go for that, it will create a very dangerous competition in the region. But the point is that we don't have the atomic bomb and this is admitted even by the Americans. [John] Negroponte, who is in charge of intelligence assessment in the U.S., said that Iran does not have nuclear weapons and will not reach there for the next 10 years. But why do they have this type of attitude towards Iran? For us, India is a friendly country and we don't have any problem that you have concluded a nuclear energy agreement with the U.S. But what we want to clarify is the double standard policy of the U.S.
Were you expecting this line-up in the Security Council, where only Qatar stood up to oppose the resolution?
When they announced they would like to solve this problem through negotiations, we thought they were sincere. And we worked very seriously over this project. The work of the different specialised committees has also been clarified. But this action taken by them in the UNSC places a question mark over their intentions. In 2003, three European foreign ministers came to Tehran. They said that if you suspend enrichment for several weeks we can resolve the problem. These several weeks of suspension got converted to more than two years! In the past two years and some months, they inspected our installations more than 26 times but did not find anything. But they used this pressure to impose their intentions. In Tehran, they suspended the activities of our centrifuges, in Brussels they said all spare-part manufacturing should be suspended and in Paris they said all kinds of activities should be stopped! Even though we asked for 10 centrifuge machines for research, they did not allow us. They said that in a few months we will reach an "objective guarantee" by which you can have enrichment and we can be sure there is no diversion [for weapons]. Later, we saw that their idea of "objective guarantees" was that we should completely stop our activity! So we came to the conclusion that we had to change our approach.
Just to be clear, there is no more package and no Iranian response on August 22?
I don't wish to pass judgment because the package does not have any potency. They should also have confidence-building. In Iran at the moment, nobody has trust in them. We do believe that through the negotiation, we should come to a conclusion. But if they prepare the ground for the negotiation by kicking out the package, they destroy everything. From our side, with Mr. Solana, we took some steps to create an atmosphere for further mutual cooperation. But then they fell out of favour. I think they should also create a genuine atmosphere. I don't see a positive [trend] for the future.
Can Iran take the initiative and propose a counter-package?
It is very important to prepare the ground. In an atmosphere where there is no trust on either side, how can the package work? When they talk with the logic of force, it doesn't have any meaning for us. When we sit at the table together, we should have an agreement over some paradigm. Then we can resolve the issue through negotiation. This paradigm must address all essential issues in the talks. If one side wants to talk with a stick, there can be no common paradigm.
One of the questions the Americans raise is the document you showed the IAEA on the casting of uranium in hemispheric shapes. They say the document, given by the A.Q. Khan network, has military implications. What is your explanation of that document?
If they say that about this document, scientists will laugh at them. It is only two pages. I talked to el-Baradei about that. They mean from these two pages someone can manufacture an atomic bomb? If a person can build a bomb from these two pages, I will give him the equivalent of his weight in gold!
The IAEA refers to it as a 15-page document...
Overall, but we have differences over only two pages [of the document]. The problem is only over two pages.
Iran should publish this document.
If they continue to make unfair charges, we will do that. This is not the first time they are doing this. Once they announced that we were manufacturing bombs at a military base. We showed IAEA inspectors that centre. Normally other countries don't do that because in military centres they have their own regulations. But they couldn't find anything there. El-Baradei contacted me later and said, `I request you to let them inspect it once again.' And in spite of all the difficulties, we acceded to this request. We have many stories like this. More than 2000 man-days of inspections have taken place in Iran and the IAEA has said there is no evidence of any diversion. They add that they cannot give final views on whether there is any undeclared nuclear activity but Iran is not the only one in this situation. Forty six countries, including 13 European countries, are in a similar situation. But they didn't create any hurdle for their nuclear energy activities. Their nuclear programmes continue and there are no restrictions by the Agency over them. What we are saying is `you are raising some issues that are not logical, you should stop.'
I would like to state frankly that the nuclear issue of Iran is only an excuse. If this issue is resolved, they will create another one.
Was the Indian stand on the Iran issue in the governing board of the IAEA a setback to bilateral relations? Do you understand why it was done or were you disappointed?
We are not disappointed as far as our bilateral relations with India are concerned. This type of stand, before it harms to us, will harm the reputation of the country [involved] because it shows the political capacity of the country for resolving problems.
Apprehensions have been expressed in India that this will complicate the $5 billion LNG contract between Iran and India.
No, because we are not looking at international issues like a child! Looking at strategic relations in the region is very important for us. Maybe a country that has friendly relations with us will not use its reputation and capacity in a right way. It doesn't mean we should also come up with an illogical reaction from our side.
One final question: Do the events in Lebanon have an impact on your thinking on nuclear issues?
It has no logical relation. [What we see in Lebanon] is a very harsh reaction by the Americans and this is of course their own mistake. The Americans have not understood the problems of the region. When they invaded Iraq, from the beginning we were opposed to this. We faced a lot of harm from the Saddam regime, more than others. But we knew what kind of situation in the region would be created by the invasion by American troops. They killed a large number of Iraqis. Now we can see the situation there.
In Lebanon they face a similar situation. In their plan for the Middle East, they say they want to develop democracy. After that they saw that through this democracy, Hamas was born in Palestine. In some of the countries that have close relations with the U.S., if democracy is created the head of the state will be removed. So they wound up this plan and put it aside. Now Madam Rice has announced they are seeking a "New Middle East." This is the theory of Shimon Peres. He says, `forget democracy, you should put pressure on countries of the region to have economic relations with Israel. And you should limit three parts: Iran, Syria, and Hizbollah.' This is the New Middle East of Madam Rice! Now my question is: is this coming true? The entire reputation of the U.S. has been put behind Israel. It has given Israel new weapons. What happened? Hizbollah has resisted. King Abdullah of Jordan has mentioned that by this action, you have made a hero of the Hizbollah leader. Also the ideology of Hizbollah has spread to other countries. They created this situation by their own hand. The way the U.S. and Britain think is like 50 years ago. They believe that with military force they can do everything.