Hard talk: a conversation with Iran

| April 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

‘In such a dire situation,’ says Chargé d’Affaires Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, ‘cool heads should prevail’

By Donna Jacobs

 

Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani

Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani

Iran has provoked widespread international concern over its controversial pursuit of nuclear power and its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also criticized for its unjust imprisonment and execution of its citizens, including children, as well as for its suppression of political dissidents and opposition candidates. Most recently, it faces censure for supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against the call for international action to stop his deadly suppression of protesters.
In this wide-ranging interview, Iranian Charge d’Affaires Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani tells Diplomat publisher Donna Jacobs why the West is wrong about Iran, and why the West should get out of the Middle East and mind its own business.

Diplomat Magazine: The Canadian government’s “Controlled Engagement Policy” has limited discussions with the Embassy of Iran to four topics since May 2005: (1) the human rights situation in Iran; (2) Iran’s nuclear program and its lack of respect for its non-proliferation obligations; (3) the case of Mrs. Zahra Kazemi, who was killed in an Iranian prison by government officials in 2003; and (4) Iran’s role in the region.
Please comment on the status of each of these topics and indicate what you would say to open a dialogue with the Canadian government on them.

Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani: I have been a pro-dialogue diplomat and I came here to kick-start a meaningful, result-oriented dialogue. I have been here for a year, and I keep working [toward] that objective. I cross my fingers for success because I find such an approach a win-win for both Iran and Canada. At the same time, governments form their own policies and, as diplomats, we cannot interfere with the policies.
As I have said before, Canada used to be seen as a part of the solution internationally — an honest broker, a lateral player — [and has now] taken a different approach. I read in articles in your media that even your academics and your [intellectuals], who are active in foreign-policy issues, also long for the old Canada.
I think we are in a very volatile, sophisticated and complicated transitional period in global history. In such a dire situation, cool heads should prevail. We are obliged to use our intellectual faculties more than our muscles. As an optimistic diplomat, I am working for that. I haven’t been able to influence your government’s foreign policy much so far. But I remain optimistic and I work as hard as I can to achieve [progress] in the four areas that you mention.

DM: The Canadian government will discuss human rights with representatives of the Iranian embassy. What will you say to them on this issue?
K S-H: Human rights is a serious issue for us. We attach a lot of importance to the issue but we emphasize we are people of different cultures. When the Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the United Nations [in 1948], a large proportion of the global community was not party to drafting it, including Muslims and countries such as China and India. We believe that if you want to have a true universal human rights charter, you have to include the views, cultures, beliefs and the way of life of all people.

Post-election turmoil in Tehran in 2009.

Post-election turmoil in Tehran in 2009.

DM: You did you sign this declaration, though, as it is?
K S-H: Well, it was signed [and] we tried to respect the elements which do not interfere with our way of life and our beliefs. But some elements of the declaration do interfere. If we want a global view [on human rights], we have to reconsider and to take the views of other countries into consideration. This is an urgent need and I think many countries will endorse it.

DM: Speaking in specifics, what does the West want from Iran in terms of human rights? The West wants you not to imprison opposition leaders. It wants open elections and candidacies. It wants you to move to democracy.
K S-H: We are doing that. We have established a system of government during the last 33 years. It is perfecting itself. But these processes take time. We have to be courageous and patient. We also need courage and patience from the outside world. Your system took many centuries to perfect so give us time. [Our system] will work — definitely — but as a system compatible with our way of life.
We cannot copy liberal democracies. We are different people. Let us have our own system, our own values and our own culture and adapt the laws and regulations according to our own way of life. Then we will have no problem with human rights, no problem with democracy.

DM: You may be moving towards a more democratic system. It seems imperceptible to us. If people are jailed as dissidents — among them, students asking for democracy — how can this democracy get kick-started?
K S-H: Our democracy kick-started 33 years ago because we moved from a royal dictatorship to a republican system which every four years chooses its president, 290 members of parliament, assembly of experts, members of city council and other councils that run the affairs of the country. We [had] another parliamentary election [March 2].
Now we have our laws, and within the boundary of those laws people can act and interact, which is going on. But if the laws of the country are violated, then people should be dealt with according to the law.

Iranian supporters of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demonstrate in June 2009 in Tehran. Iranians protested against what they believed was a rigged vote that put President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power.

Iranian supporters of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demonstrate in June 2009 in Tehran. Iranians protested against what they believed was a rigged vote that put President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power.

DM: Violations such as large protest gatherings?
K S-H: Gatherings are allowed if you get permission in advance. If you don’t get permission in advance, you cannot have a gathering. For instance, [Canada had violent incidents] in the G20 [in Toronto] and the G8 in Vancouver. What did your police do? When people transgress the boundaries of law, they should be arrested and they should be accountable to the law.

DM: What about the case of Zahra Kazemi?
K S-H: I am very disappointed for this loss of life. And since this is the first time I am speaking to your media about this issue, I want to extend my condolences to her family and remind [people] that the late Zahra Kazemi travelled to Iran as an Iranian on her Iranian travel documents. According to Iranian civil law, adopted more than 50 years ago, Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.
The Iranian government thinks that its citizens should be dealt according with Iranian law. We cannot be accountable to foreign governments.

DM: So you can never leave Iran and not remain an Iranian citizen, no matter where you are in the world?
K S-H: Unless you renounce your citizenship — and I haven’t seen anyone renouncing it. Any Iranians who want to go back to Iran, we give them passports and they go back as Iranians.

DM: There is ample evidence that Zahra Kazemi died from wounds inflicted on her by government agents while she was in prison custody. When you offer condolences, do you also offer an apology?
K S-H: I extend my condolences. I can add that this issue was and is very important for the Iranian government. That is why the case is not closed yet. If you remember, the president at the time appointed a five-member council consisting of different ministers to investigate the issue. Several lawyers represented the late Zahra Kazemi.
As the representative of Iran in Canada, I am responsible for the safety, rights and well-being of all Iranians. If the late Zahra Kazemi’s family asks me for help, I will definitely, with my best ability, respond to that.

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, and Mohamed ElBaradei (left), then IAEA director general, speak to the press in Vienna in 2003. Mr. Salehi is currently foreign minister of Iran.

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, and Mohamed ElBaradei (left), then IAEA director general, speak to the press in Vienna in 2003. Mr. Salehi is currently foreign minister of Iran.

DM: Have they asked you?
K S-H: Not yet.

DM: Her family wants her body returned to Canada.
K S-H: We do not discuss details here but if the family asks me for help, as the envoy from Iran, I see my duty to do my utmost to help them. And I will.

DM: Iran’s role in the Middle East is the other matter the government will to talk to you about. I think they mean your influence, your support for Hezbollah and your brinksmanship with Syria.
K S-H: Iran is a legitimate regional power in the Middle East. It has its own legitimate interests. What we are doing, in a very volatile region, is to make sure that our interests are preserved. At the same time, we try to develop our own country, which is the right of the Iranian people.
We think that the major problem of our part of the world is foreign intervention, the presence of foreign troops and foreign countries. We believe that the countries of the region are well capable of ensuring their own security and the stability of their own region. But the last 400 years tell us that foreign intervention and foreign meddling in our affairs has worsened the situation.

DM: If Russia (the former USSR) had not invaded Afghanistan, the 9/11 al-Qaeda attack would not have happened. Russia’s invasion led to the creation and arming of the Taliban. The Taliban turned on the West, morphed into an international terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. You say that Afghanistan can take care of itself. Yet as soon as the West pulls out its troops, al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban will be there [to try and take over] again.
K S-H: It will not happen overnight. We opposed Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan because we thought it was wrong. We also oppose the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan because we also think it is wrong. Iranians have been living in that part of the world for many centuries. We think we understand the dynamics of the region better.
The Americans created the Taliban to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. You created a monster and then, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, you also left. The monster came back to you after they killed our diplomats. You know nine Iranian diplomats were killed in Afghanistan before 9/11. We are the victims of Taliban ourselves. And that is why we helped the Americans to defeat the Taliban.

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson crosses the Strait of Hormuz in February.

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson crosses the Strait of Hormuz in February.

DM: And the Taliban has reportedly taken up residence in your country under your protection?
K S-H: We categorically deny that. Now the Americans are negotiating with Taliban. We think this is insane. The Taliban are the same elements who caused this chaos. How can you negotiate with the people who killed your nationals in the United States? We think these policies are wrong.

DM: You categorically deny working with Taliban?
K S-H: Of course. They were an enemy.

DM: But now insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have weapons from your country.
K S-H: Iran sells weapons to 40 countries. [On the other hand], Saudi Arabia can buy $60 billion of American weaponry. But we do not give weapons to the Taliban. Maybe they secure it from elsewhere. You never empower your enemy.

DM: Please describe Iran’s view of the Arab Spring, including your country’s statement of regret and concern over the way Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is killing his people.
K S-H: First of all, what you call Arab Spring, we call Islamic Awakening. We believe the lifetime dictatorial governments are over. They cannot continue any more.
We believe that this situation was created by the help of the United States. I can quote Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, on June 20, 2005. She was speaking at the American University in Cairo: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy here in the Middle East and we achieved neither.”

Graffiti at the former U.S. embassy in Tehran where 52 Americans were taken hostage for 444 days during the Iran hostage crisis, from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. The Iranians released the hostages on Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan took office.

Graffiti at the former U.S. embassy in Tehran where 52 Americans were taken hostage for 444 days during the Iran hostage crisis, from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. The Iranians released the hostages on Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan took office.

We object to American hypocrisy because the U.S. worked with those dictators who brutalized their own people, including my country. In 1953, the United States and the United Kingdom designed and carried out a coup d’état in Iran, toppling an elected Iranian government and bringing back the dictator who had fled the country, inflicting 16 years of very brutal repression on Iranian people while the Shah of Iran was the close ally of the United States.
The United States fully backed Hosni Mubarak for many decades while he was running a very repressive regime.
The United States and United Kingdom and many Western countries worked closely with Libya and Muammar Gadhafi. He was a brutal dictator.
We believe that the time for such behaviour is over. Now the people of the region want to take their destiny in their own hands. Iran is their example. We started 33 years ago. We have inspired people of our region and now they are revolting against dictators.

DM: Do you think you inspired them? Or do you think it was the Tunisian university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, who became a fruit peddler to support his family and who burnt himself in desperation?
K S-H: He was the ignition. But Iran definitely has inspired changes in the Middle East and in North Africa. I can tell you that the people of the region want three main things.
No.1, they want to be independent. Why? For many decades they have been belittled and subordinated to big powers through dictators who were supported by Western countries. Now that they have their destiny in their hands, they want to be more independent. They will be more independent.
No. 2, they will be more democratic because, when the dictator is gone, people want to participate and to form their own type of governance. So the new system will definitely be more participatory and more democratic.
No. 3, they will be more Islamic. Those dictators backed by the West imposed secular dictatorship on Muslims. Now the dictator-imposed secularism is gone, these people will return to their Islamic principles.

Iran's controversial heavy water production facility in final stages of construction in 2004, in Arak, south Tehran.

Iran's controversial heavy water production facility in final stages of construction in 2004, in Arak, south Tehran.

DM: Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, asked Bashar al-Assad to stop killing his people and to call free elections. Why, if this is part of the Islamic Awakening, are you not putting more pressure on your close ally?
K S-H: We support change when the change is home-grown. We do not believe in foreign meddling. If the change is home-grown in Syria, our officials have asked that the Syrian president pay attention to the wishes of his own people.

DM: Are you content to let a civil war continue, with people wounded and gunned down in the streets without UN intervention? Direct foreign intervention is not driving these demonstrations.
K S-H: But hooligans and anti-government forces are being equipped with weapons. They are fighting their own government. Why should a legitimate government be fought by elements who are supported, equipped and armed by outside countries? This will worsen the situation. This will not lead to democracy. We hope for a peaceful outcome. But things are not very promising at the moment.

DM: The people’s will has been awakened in Syria. The demonstrations are a protest in the same sense as the 2009 protest in Iran over what the people felt was a rigged presidential vote — “Where is my vote?”
K S-H: No [the Iranian demonstrations] were not an uprising. I disagree with you. People were asking about the result of the election. And there are lawful ways for asking — which is the recount of some percentage of the votes. This was carried out. If you ask for something outside the boundaries of law, it is not acceptable.

DM: Many Iranians do not feel represented by your system in which the mullahs decide who may run for office. Iranians are forbidden or intimidated or kidnapped or imprisoned if they run as opposition leaders. The people cannot revolt because they are forbidden to meet. How can you be inspiring other Arab Springs when you squashed your own?
K S-H: We do not squash anyone. We have a system of government. This system has its own institutions. In these institutions, elections are run according to the law. Every country has its own laws. In Canada, if you are not a member of a party, you cannot run for Parliament.

DM: This is specious reasoning.
K S-H: What I am saying is that there are different systems. The Iranian system is not a political-party, Westminster system. But it is a representative system. Why should our criteria be exactly like yours? You cannot assimilate. People have their own systems. Your system is different from the U.S. and France. France is different from the UK. If you want to make a comparison, participation of Iranians [in elections] is far higher than in Canada. In the last presidential election in Iran, 40 million people voted. And the president got 63 percent of the votes.

DM: That vote was much disputed.
K S-H: No, it was not disputed.

DM: Perhaps not by you.
K S-H: Not by anybody who is worth listening to — because the elections in Iran are run according to Iranian law. It is not good that you like the democracy that delivers the result that you like. The West has a very bleak history for this. In Algeria, there was a free election. The Salvation Front won. It was crushed but nobody objected. In Gaza, there was a free election. Hamas won but the West didn’t like the result so they objected and tried to impose sanctions on the elected government of Gaza.
[Can you] tell me that 100 percent of Canadians agree with their prime minister now? No. He has the support of only 40 percent of eligible voters. This is the framework in which elections are run. So I adamantly disagree with you if you say the Iranian government is not representative or is not democratic.

DM: It is the method [we are talking about]. Leaders in democratic countries are selected by the people and make their way through the electoral process. Your leaders are selected by mullahs — they have to be approved.
K S-H: In the United States primary system, only very few people elect the nominee. Some of the people are selected by 100 votes.
We respect your democracy; we also expect you to respect our democracy.
That is why Russia is opposing the Western approach to Syria — arguing that what you are imposing will worsen the situation.

DM: Mr. al-Assad has said he is not going to step down, any more than Muammar Gadhafi, who said he was going to fight to the end. At what point do you say this is enough?
K S-H: You cannot compare President Assad with Colonel Gadhafi. Definitely not.
We have advised President Assad to pay attention, to accommodate the lawful wishes of his people. If you take up arms, it is not a lawful wish. It is an insurgency which is unacceptable. I would like to see the Syrian government and opposition work out the solution themselves. I think they are capable of doing that.
This is why I say it needs patience. The case of Libya, do you think it is resolved? The supporters of Muammar Gadhafi have claimed a city. The chaos goes on. We should help stability and home-grown solutions.

DM: Does Iran recognize Israel’s legitimate right to nationhood? If so, why did Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, say in June 2008: “You should know that the criminal and terrorist Zionist regime, which has 60 years of plundering, aggression and crimes in its file, has reached the end of its work and will soon disappear off the geographical scene.”
Why did Iran’s presidential website make these statements? No. 1: “The Zionist regime of Israel faces a dead end and will under God’s grace be wiped off the map.” No. 2: “The Zionist regime that is a usurper and illegitimate regime and a cancerous tumour should be wiped off the map.”
K S-H: I don’t know where you found those [quotations]. But many people dispute the translation of these phrases, including scholars in the United States. Iran’s official position on this issue, which is a very democratic solution, is that in a referendum, by the participation of all people of Palestine, including the Muslims, the Jews and others, they decide the system of government they wish to have. Iran will fully respect that.
Of course, we disagree with more than six decades of occupation, invasion, imprisonment of the Palestinians in their own land, a situation that even [President] Jimmy Carter of America has called “a prison camp.” We see this as one of the gravest injustices to humanity in contemporary history.
[As for] rhetoric, we have been threatened with military action on a daily basis [with] contingency plans for attacking Iran. Why does nobody object to this? We don’t understand this. If threatening others is bad, why — when Iran is threatened, a noble, civilized, cultured people — nobody objects?

DM: Has Israel ever said to Iran what Iran has said to Israel — that, no matter which way you parse the words: “We will drive you into the sea. We will wipe out your country. You don’t deserve to exist.”
K S-H: The Israeli deputy prime minister [Moshe Ya’alon] has said that “we can attack all Iranian facilities and all Iranian facilities are penetrable.” And they say, “We have planned to carry out an attack against Iran.”

DM: Israel is surrounded by forces that are antagonistic to it, wish it gone, have attacked it. Given Israel’s size, it would be easy to wipe out it out militarily — which is why Israelis say Iran poses an existential threat. Israel is not saying it wants to wipe Iran off the map. It is saying, “Stop the development of nuclear weapons because they could be used to wipe Israel off the map.”
K S-H: I don’t know if you have studied the history of Palestine and what happened to Palestine when it was partitioned. [Despite] UN resolutions, a lot of territory has been occupied by the force of arms by Israelis since 1967.
We have seen systematic occupation by Israel, systematic invasion by Israel of Palestine, of Lebanon. We have seen very brutal wars and crimes against innocent people. These are facts. Iran has never been party to any fighting between Israel and its neighbours.

DM: Iran is using threatening words — no matter which way you look at them.
K S-H: I call them rhetoric. We never had plans to attack anybody while they say at the highest level they have plans to attack Iran. U.S. President [Obama] said this. Israelis are saying this. Nobody objects.

DM: Because Iran is threatening the existence of Israel.
K S-H: It is not Iran. I told you Iran’s official position. But the market for rhetoric is very hot. Rhetoric is [found] on both sides. We have been threatened by military attack more than 300 times. It is coming on a daily basis now. Why do you not worry about Iranians? We are human beings. And the Israelis have at least 200 [nuclear bombs] in [their] arsenal. Iran has peaceful nuclear energy. Who is threatening whom?

DM: Israel wants to take out your nuclear weapons because they are afraid you will use them on Israel.
K S-H: We have no nuclear weapons. Why are you repeating that? We have no nuclear weapons. Any idiot knows that. We have a peaceful nuclear program. It is an inalienable right of all members of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty]. The IAEA in more than 20 of its reports has declared that there has been no diversion in Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities.
Please for once believe us. We say nuclear weapons have no place in our military doctrine because we saw the Soviet Union collapse while it had thousands of nuclear weapons. We can see Israel is not feeling safe while it has hundreds of nuclear weapons.
We believe that power is not nuclear weapons. If you study defence budgets of the world, Iran has one of the least military spending. Because we believe if your people support you, then that is the real strength. And the majority of our people support us. Why do people want to deny Iran access to science and technology?

DM: They suspect military application.
K S-H: I suspect every movement of the United States because what it has done to my people, and the people of this region, is sheer brutality.

DM: What will Iran’s response be to a confrontation with the U.S. Sixth Fleet if Iran makes good on its threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, or if Iran’s nuclear facilities are bombed by one or more countries? In January, U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta speculated that within the next three months, your country will be physically attacked.
K S-H: First of all, I wish that cool heads will prevail. [We] do not need any adventurism by the United States or anybody else. Iran is doing whatever is permissible according to the rights of NPT — the Non-Profileration Treaty. Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. I don’t see any reason whatsoever for any country to even think about attacking Iran.
But if they want to repeat their mistakes of the past, Iranian people have proved that they are capable of defending themselves. Iranian officials have said that we have no plans for blocking the Strait of Hormuz. But if you want to attack Iran, Iran has every right to defend itself.

DM: Why do Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many people in the West consider Iran the most dangerous country in the world?
K S-H: They are wrong.

DM: All of them are wrong?
K S-H: Yes, because in the last 250 years, Iran has never invaded or threatened its neighbours. We have been invaded five times in that period. Twice by Russia, which attacked Iran and annexed a large part of the country (which today are independent republics). Then twice in the course of World War I and World War II, England and Russia jointly invaded my country when we had announced officially that we were neutral.
They occupied the country by force of arms for five years each time, bringing about famine, killing millions of Iranian people. Then we come to very recent history when Iraq invaded Iran. Iraq had the full support of the United States and many other countries. We have never attacked anybody. We have always opposed invasions. But when we are attacked, we are capable of defending ourselves.

DM: You did take Americans hostage [for 444 days in 1979-1980] and memories are long on both sides. Iran may not be an invasive country but it is an asymetrically invasive country through Hezbollah and some of its other — as we would call it — terrorist activities.
K S-H: You would call it terrorist but we would not. The people who would fight for the independence of their country and for their land, we do not call them terrorists. The people who are fighting occupation, we do not call them terrorists. And we think we should revise the definition of terrorism. States who kill systematically the citizens of other countries, and are proud of their behaviour, they are terrorists in our view.

DM: Hezbollah is a well-organized military, paramilitary and social organization around the world. It is well-established in the Caribbean and Latin America and is actively raising money in Canada and the United States. It has been documented that Hezbollah can be blamed for terrorist acts in hijacking, attacks and murder [on a U.S. airline, U.S. barracks, Israeli embassies and an Israeli cultural centre].
If Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked, the West is concerned that Hezbollah will activate its cells and carry out attacks. Please describe Hezbollah’s world-wide presence and the acts for which it has claimed responsibility or proven to be responsible?
K S-H: I am not an expert on Hezbollah. What you say are your words.
As far as I know, Hezbollah is a part of reality in Lebanon. They have members of parliament, they are a political force and they have ministers in the cabinet. At the same time, they have the courage to defend their own country which was occupied by Israel until some years ago. I do not accept and agree with what you say about Hezbollah.

DM: The November IAEA report talks about the likelihood of Iran developing various weapons. It gives nuclear weapons a “likely” grade, based on different criteria. The IAEA report cites Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weaponry as the next “most likely.”
Apparently, using advanced laser technology, you were able to guide to earth, without damaging it, the U.S. drone. EMP weaponry could knock out the West’s communications systems, possibly before or during an attack, giving Iran almost a first-strike advantage.
The IAEA consensus in Attachment 2: Analysis of Payload, re-published on page 66) is that Iran is probably working on military application of its nuclear program.
K S-H: No, I disagree with that. If you carefully read the IAEA report, it speaks about alleged studies in the past.

DM: It also mentions studies and findings from 2008 and onward.
K S-H: It is based on foreign intelligence. The IAEA was in Iran this week [early February]. Iran’s facilities are under IAEA surveillance 24 hours a day.

DM: According to the IAEA, not every facility is fully under surveillance. The IAEA referred to a 2010 Security Council resolution calling for Iran to provide access to the IAEA without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the agency. It said that since August 2008, Iran “has not engaged with the agency in any substantive way on this matter.”
K S-H: No. This is not what I understand from IAEA reports. Non-diversion of [nuclear materials] has been confirmed. Even in the latest report, which is very biased, these alleged studies [on which conclusions are based] were provided to [former IAEA Director-General] Mohamed ElBaradei many years ago but he was very wise not to circulate it because he concluded that the studies were not documented enough.
Iraq was invaded on a bunch of lies — that the country had weapons of mass destruction that they could mobilize in 45 minutes. So why believe U.S. intelligence now about the verified reports of the IAEA reports? [The IAEA] is definitely relying on those old intelligence reports. This is not acceptable. This is a double standard.

DM: In one section of the IAEA report, an Iranian scientist admitted that, in this one instance, [if the information on a nuclear payload option were true], it would constitute “a program for the development of a nuclear weapon.”
[In another section, the report notes 2008 and 2009 studies in which Iran allegedly tested a nuclear device to determine “subsequent nuclear explosive yield” whose application to anything “except a nuclear explosive is unclear to the agency.”]
K S-H: I think you should carefully read the IAEA report. We have the verified and substantiated parts, and [then] we have the “alleged studies,” as they have come to be known.
Iran’s nuclear program was started by the Shah of Iran in the 1960s and 1970s with the encouragement of the Stanford Research Institute in the U.S.
The institute encouraged the King of Iran by advising him to plan for 20,000 megawatts of nuclear energy “for the future need of your people.” The Iranian program started. The U.S. was to build eight nuclear reactors for Iran, France, two and Germany, two. The Germans started to build the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, which was 90 percent complete by the time of the Iranian revolution. After the revolution, all this cooperation stopped.
Another fact is that Iran, as a member of NPT, like all other members, has a full right to enjoy peaceful nuclear technology, including enrichment. And 120 NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) members support this right.
Another fact is that Iranian people have seen that they have been discriminated against in this regard and they cannot accept that.
Another fact is that Iran needs to increase its power production because we have an increasing demand for electricity power.We are working on wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy and also nuclear energy.
Another fact is that a lot of investment has been made in this industry and the absolute majority of the Iranian people fully support it. Our approach is to cooperate with the IAEA according to our Safeguard Agreements. We are doing that.
“We are also open to any negotiation without any pre-conditions. Our foreign minister has said that we will respond to the IAEA’s questions. The IAEA said that their February visit to Iran was a positive one and they would return on February 21 and 22. We have also said to the 5+1 [United States, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany] that we are open to negotiations without any pre-conditions. So we think we have kept every avenue open. There [should be] no excuse or alibi from anybody.
[The IAEA report from that late February visit said that Iran had stepped up uranium enrichment, blocked inspectors’ access to the Parchin military testing site near Tehran, and had not provided long-sought answers about weapons-related work.]

DM: What negotiations are you referring to? The IAEA says you have not implemented the Additional Protocol which means a whole area of your program is not under surveillance, an observation made in previous IAEA reports.
K S-H: You have not studied the Additional Protocol carefully.

DM: I read it.
K S-H: First, Iran has not signed the Additional Protocol, as many other countries have not signed it. [The Additional Protocol grants the IAEA an expanded right of access to information and sites to check on declared and possible undeclared activities.]
To build confidence, we accepted the Additional Protocol without ratifying it, to temporarily and voluntarily implement it for a short period of time. The IAEA responded to our good faith with a very bad response, which disappointed many Iranians. Our Safeguard Agreements [aimed at enabling detection clandestine nuclear weapons program] with the agency are what we signed and we are honouring that.

DM: What does Iran want from the IAEA?
K S-H: Iran wants, as a member of NPT, to fully enjoy its rights, and definitely honours its obligations.

DM: Why don’t you open everything up to the IAEA completely so they can’t keep saying they haven’t been given access, they haven’t had answers to their requests for information?
K S-H: We have had 4,000 man-hours of inspection of Iranian facilities, which is unprecedented in the history of IAEA. If they are not satisfied, it is not our problem; it is their problem.

DM: You were able to build an entirely underground facility near Qom, a facility almost impervious to attack without anybody knowing about it. IAEA said that, until they knew about it, Iran did not mention these facilities.
K S-H: According to those Safeguard Agreements, any member state can inform the agency about nuclear facilities six months prior to feeding gas to it. Iran announced to IAEA many, many years before that.
We told them about Qom last year and they have installed the cameras, whereas we were not obliged by Safeguard Agreements to tell them, except six months before feeding gas into our centrifuges.
I want to add one point. Since 1974, Iran and Egypt have co-sponsored the Middle East nuclear free zone in the United Nations General Assembly. And this resolution, since 1980 every year, is adopted in the UN General Assembly. We think that not only the Middle East, but also the whole world, should be free of nuclear weapons. And we are very surprised to see why NPT is not implemented in its disarmament leg. And definitely Iran is a party to any activity for disarmament.

DM: The November IAEA report includes an analysis of the payloads Iran could be planning for its Shehab 3 missile and the agency’s assessment of Iran’s likelihood of using these various weapons.
K S-H: This is what the American intelligence service is [putting out.] IAEA has re-circulated the intelligence they have received from the U.S. intelligence service. In 2007, 16 American intelligence services confirmed that Iran had no military weapon program, and that the program was for nuclear energy.

DM: And then they rescinded that report [the National Intelligence Estimate].
K S-H: But the IAEA says there is no diversion.

DM: Is there anything you want to say in closing?
K S-H: I want to request the people of the world, including Canadians, to be fair and to treat Iranians without discrimination. Iranians are a civilized, noble people who have decided to live independently, to take their destiny in their own hands and to ask the people to respect and allow us to evolve and perfect our new system of governance which is participative and representative and can be a great help for the Middle East and North Africa.

Donna Jacobs is Diplomat’s publisher.

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Donna Jacobs is Diplomat's publisher

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