Those who think only about bombs, war, and attacking others are the root cause of everything that is wrong in the world, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tells The Hindu in an exclusive interview.
10 August 2006
"We are still interested in dialogue based on justness and fairness"
Siddharth Varadarajan & John Cherian
We are meeting at a time when the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme is being escalated. Last week, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution threatening sanctions on Iran even as you are still evaluating your response to the European package of incentives. What is your government likely to do now?
As I see it, the issue has not become more complicated. Rather, it is clear. The U.S. and certain European countries do not want Iran to have access to peaceful nuclear technology, to use that technology. And they are using everything at their disposal to make sure of this. Recent developments in Lebanon again demonstrate that the UNSC is an instrument under their control. And they used this instrument at their disposal, so nothing important has happened. From the very beginning, they were threatening us with their instrument, which is the UNSC. And we responded by asking whether the Security Council is controlled by you because you are constantly talking about it and using it to threaten us. We have known this [reality] for some time now. But these days everything has become that much clearer.
We have always been interested in talking, and we are still interested in dialogue, in the context of the law, our national interest, and based on justness and fairness. And in a fair atmosphere. This is because we conduct our affairs lawfully and we have always believed — and continued to believe — in the concepts of peace and tranquillity and justice. So we have nothing to fear.
We managed to secure — to access — this technology indigenously, here in Iran [points to his head]. This is the end result of our scientific endeavours. Nobody can take this away from us [again points to his head]. Having said that, we are still interested in talking if there are parties out there which might have questions. We are always interested in receiving their questions and responding to them. They have given us a proposal. And we have responded by saying that we will respond to you later. And we are very much in the middle of studying that package. And we also gave them a date.
Yes, we said we would reply on the 22nd of August and they issued a resolution nevertheless! I am at a loss to explain this. What is the meaning of this? The only conclusion I can draw is that they are bullying us. They want to impose their will on us. They really are not looking for a dialogue. In all honesty, they do not want to talk to us but want to impose their wishes on us. They want to deny us our rights. They want to place a Damocles sword over our head so that we give up eventually. But they have miscalculated. The time for such behaviour is in the past, it's finished. We are not concerned. And they will regret the miscalculation they have made today.
Last year, at the U.N. General Assembly, you made an interesting proposal for a multinational fuel cycle but the other countries did not respond. Is it possible that on August 22, you will make another proposal, so as to keep the path for dialogue open?
What we have announced is that we are going to study the package of incentives, and later we are going to express our opinion on this. We are interested in continuing with negotiations. But their most recent behaviour is reason enough for us to doubt their sincerity. Given everything that has happened, we no longer have any confidence, any trust. We assume that the whole idea of presenting us with a package was a political exercise more than anything else. So it has become very difficult for us to remove from our mind the conclusion we have arrived at, which is that they are less than sincere. It is difficult for us to believe they have given up their colonial practices. Of course, there is a lot of possibility, a lot of likelihood, that we are going to continue the packages more and we are going to come back with a response. We are trying our very best to do just that.
Were you surprised at Russia and China joining hands with the U.S., France, and Britain in passing this resolution at the UNSC?
No. We are standing on our own two feet. Of course, we would like to see our friends stand side by side with us.
Iran and the NPT
Are there any circumstances — if this approach of the U.S. and the Europeans continues, the approach, as you see it, of increasing pressure on you — that Iran may one day decide to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Is that at all a possibility?
We have said time and again that all of our nuclear activities are peaceful, and are conducted in the context and under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and also the articles of the NPT. We remain firmly inside those boundaries. Nevertheless, if they decide to use the instruments at their disposal to put pressure on us to limit our activities, and try to take away or deny what is rightfully ours, and to distort our rights, obviously we are going to change our mind.
About being in the NPT, or about the peaceful nature of your nuclear programme?
Well, we are going to respond commensurate to their response. In other words, we are going to respond in kind. Having said that, they will not be able to put pressure on us.
There is a famous fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini that it is against Islam to use the nuclear bomb. But do you also consider it un-Islamic to make or keep the bomb for deterrence purposes?
We think that the time of weapons of mass destruction having a say in, or determining the course of, political or human relations is in the past. It is finished. And in the very near future, these existing arsenals are going to become useless. All nations very much abhor war, killing, and bloodshed. There are only a few big powers that want to speed up the arms race, and of course, the reason they are interested in this is to line their own pockets. Today, the age of thinking, of cultural exchanges and endeavours has dawned. What we desperately need is better human interaction, peace, justice, pens — people in the media, for example — that work for the greater good. These are the factors that contribute to or bring about happiness and well-being. Bombs do not provide prosperity. The money that is spent on armaments should rightfully be spent on better welfare, for the development of our various societies, and also healthcare.
Iran has made impressive advances in the past two decades but in the energy field there are two critical weaknesses. You have a lack of refining capability, so you import gasoline. And you also don't have the technology to liquefy gas. While accepting that Iran has every right to pursue nuclear energy, wouldn't the goal of energy security, at least in the medium term, be better served by investing your money on refineries and doing research on LNG technology rather than nuclear fuel enrichment?
These two do not create any impositions on each other. The experts who have been involved in the fields [you mention] must do a better job. And of course we have approached them, to be much quicker. These are two parallel endeavours, and one does not translate into any obstacles in the way of the other. Can one say that a country which desperately requires greater amounts of energy must ignore healthcare cover? Or ignore such issues as aerodynamics, lasers or state-of-the-art medical services? There are different branches of technology and science. It is very natural for a country to progress more in one branch than another.
Relations with India
Last year, after India voted against Iran at the IAEA, your government expressed its disappointment. There are some who are saying the LNG contract for 5 million tonnes has run into trouble as a result. How do you assess the state of bilateral relations today?
The relationship between India and Iran is a historical one. Many cultural and civilisational commonalities have linked the two countries together. Our literature, arts and also our social practices and customs, our intellectuals, and also the tastes and sentiments of my people are very similar to that of the Indian nation. Aside from those, in the region we have many shared interests and shared points of view and positions. Our relations are steeped in history. Having said that, we were dismayed with the position taken by the Indian government. This came as a surprise. Again, having said that, this will not play a role in determining our relations. As far as relations are concerned, we are working for and hoping for very clear future horizons, promising horizons. Iranians are very much at ease when they are in the company of their Indian brethren and we have a lot of affinity with Indians. Ours is not the kind of relationship that will be affected by one mistake. I think the relations are important enough that if one of the parties makes a mistake, they would correct that mistake themselves. Having said that, we are not worried about that. But having said that, this came as a surprise.
When India's Petroleum Minister, Murli Deora, met you in Shanghai in June, you said you would ask the Majlis [Parliament] to clarify the status of the LNG contract. Could you tell us what is the position?
I want to stress that the LNG contract has nothing to do with the [IAEA] issue. In all honesty, everything boils down to a legal interpretation of the contract. A difference of opinion exists between our oil company and its Indian counterpart. We really want to expand our cooperation. And as you might appreciate, as far as [energy cooperation with India] is concerned, I myself am personally following matters. I have directed my colleagues to approach the Majlis and ask them where we stand on the LNG issue. I think that in about 30-40 days from now, we will have an answer.
Many people in Iran, India, and Pakistan are looking forward to the natural gas pipeline currently under discussion. But the pricing of gas is emerging as a stumbling block. Given the strategic importance of the pipeline for the three countries, and especially Iran, are you willing to be flexible as far as price is concerned?
We have a great deal of respect and love for the people of India and Pakistan. We look upon them as our own people. We are very interested in this pipeline being constructed. You have to appreciate that at the moment we have a lot of offers [for our gas] from Europe with very high prices. Nevertheless, we would like this pipeline to be constructed and stretch between Iran, Pakistan, and India. We want this pipeline to be the pipeline of brotherhood and peace. And of course, we would very much like to be flexible. At the end of the day, well, we have to go through the National Iran Oil Company (NIOC), and they obviously are a legal entity. They have to work out an agreement, and obviously their mentality, how they look at this venture, is an economic one, and they have to sell this gas, this commodity, at the best possible price. This natural gas pipeline will be a securable and bankable pipeline. With that in mind, its prices cannot be very far away from international prices. I think that we can come to an agreement, inshallah. [We should give] some time to the experts of the three countries to reach an agreement.
Letters to Bush, Merkel
One of the interesting aspects of your diplomatic style is the letters you have written — to U.S. President George W. Bush for example, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. What is the purpose behind these letters? Were they meant to be an invitation to dialogue? And are you disappointed you never got a reply?
There are two points you need to appreciate. The westerners have devised a framework for diplomatic activity; they have written the rules of the game, so to speak, and want everyone to play by those rules. I assure you that whoever plays by those rules, whoever remains in that framework, will be worse off. We have to come up and use our practices and ways and methods. We very much can have our frameworks. We have a very rich culture, a very ancient civilisation to draw on. We have proposals, ideas to help find solutions to the many international problems which exist. So with these, we fully believe we can have a better world, we can govern the world much better than it is governed today.
The letters I sent, their spirit, were messages more than anything else. Of course, I was hoping — I was interested in them appreciating and accepting these rightful words. And I would have liked them to return to what is right, and appreciate the truth. But they are free to make their own choices. But at the end of the day, all individuals will reap the seeds they have sown, the choices they have made. Of course, you can see for yourself, the result of these two diplomatic initiatives. I believe that the goals set have been secured. This was a message, a call, an invitation to peace and appreciation of the truth. If they were to accept the message, so much the better. And if they refuse, nations around the world will come to appreciate that they oppose peace, because this is a call to peace, an invitation to peace.
The Lebanon crisis
Your colleagues are signalling that our time is up but we have to ask one last question, on Lebanon. Does the failure of Israel to achieve its aims in Lebanon create a new opportunity for the international community to push for a just peace in the Middle East where all countries can live peacefully within secure borders and in freedom?
We believe that the incidents which have unfolded in Lebanon will change the ongoing equations in the region. The regime of occupation of al-Quds [Israel] is a regime which is very much dependent on and boasts about its military war machine. This regime does not have a humanitarian relationship, a long-standing relationship with the countries of the region. It is only falling back, so to speak, on its military might. This is a might, mind you, which they have used time and again for 60 long years. But this military might and this war machine have now come to an abrupt halt. Obviously, this vacuum is a prelude to certain changes, and these will come about. Developments are yet to unfold. We very much hope that these developments will lead to a just and durable peace.
Having said that, once you look at this arena, and also the behaviour shown by America, Britain, and the Zionist regime, this dream, this hope, sometimes seems far-fetched. Because they are not bothered with peace. Rather, they are interested in perpetuating their occupation. They are looking for a fight. They want to have hegemony. This is very much evident from the behaviour shown by the Americans and the British when the whole issue of establishing a ceasefire [in Lebanon] was being debated recently. The duty of the UNSC is to help establish peace and security. The first action that must be taken is to establish a ceasefire. But they were thinking that if they oppose a ceasefire and help the war to continue in Lebanon, that in turn will help them secure their goals and interests. And as we speak, they are still killing time, dragging their feet, to buy the Zionists some time so that they can have some military victories. On the other hand, they are talking about and circulating texts for specific resolutions to be passed and through these they are hoping to secure the interests that the Zionist regime failed to secure through a military attack and campaign. For this reason, as we can all see, the war rages on.
Allow me to say something else — a point which I believe the Indian and Iranian people fully believe in. What has happened most recently in Lebanon tells us all that certain big powers are not interested in the welfare of other nations. They are only thinking about their own interests, and lining their pockets and expanding their control and hegemony. Who are they? These are the people who say that ethical considerations have no place in political relationships and social relations. They have no reservations whatsoever in oppressing others, telling lies, committing atrocities and also being corrupt. All of these come together to tell me that humanity at large is aching for rulers who are ethical. And the world needs pious people, pure people. People who love each other. Those who think only about bombs, attacking others, aggression, and oppressing others — they are the root cause of everything that is wrong with the world. The failure of the UNSC in helping to bring peace and tranquillity to various nations can be found in the conduct of certain leaders.