IRAN: American public won't allow another war, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman says
Despite constant talk of war, U.S. officials have tried to reach out to the Iranian people in an attempt to get past the animosity between Washington and Tehran.
But Iranian officials have also been on a diplomatic offensive, reaching out to ordinary people in the Middle East as well as, more modestly, to Americans.
Known for his good looks, polite manners and kindly attitude toward the media, Iran's silver-haired foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammed Ali Hosseini has emerged as a frequent public face on his government’s policies.
In a lengthy interview in his office Wednesday, he described Americans as a peace-loving people who "hate violence" and are suffering because of the mistakes of their leaders. He said he believed economic pressures, the military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and American public opinion would prevent war from breaking out between Iran and the United States. "The U.S. and the Zionist regime, thanks to the increasing economic, political, security and military crises in which they are stuck, are not logically in a position to tolerate the expenses of another massive and far-reaching crisis," Hosseini said.
Public opinion in the world will not permit [President] Bush to exacerbate the pains and tragedies already inflicted on the nations of the region and the American people. Nowadays, the polling surveys carried out among U.S. elites, thinkers and, by and large, the American people, show they hate violence, further battles and anarchy. The surveys indicate that the Americans are seeking genuine peace, stability and security.
But he warned:
If there is a war against the Islamic Republic of Iran, it will be out of control and with unpredictable consequences. Thus, anyone with minimum rationality and political logic does not dare to step on this path.
Hosseini, 47, is a physicist by training and a career diplomat. A native of Tehran, he studied in India before joining Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs 20 years ago. He’s a family man, with a wife and three children. He sat down for an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with the Los Angeles Times about Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. relations and turmoil in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, which have became contested terrain in the Cold War between Washington and Tehran.
Some of his answers were blunt. Asked why Iran won't suspend its controversial uranium-enrichment program for a temporary period to calm world fears and bolster Iran's diplomatic standing, he replied that Iran has "so far complied completely with its international and legal commitments and that compliance accredits our diplomatic standing."
But usually he was far more expansive, explaining Iran's positions on a number of topics, including the packages of proposals and counterproposals being bandied about by Iran and world powers to get talks started on Iran's nuclear program.
LAT: Would you consider the European "freeze-for-freeze" proposal in which Iran would stop adding new uranium-enrichment centrifuges in exchange for no new sanctions during a period of negotiations? Why or why not?
MOHAMMAD ALI HOSSEINI: Both the 5+1 incentives package and the Iranian package have valuable elements in common. If we concentrate on the common ground in the two packages, we can initiate a very serious dialogue. If diplomacy can deepen and consolidate the commonalities in the packages and create a mechanism toward confidence-building talks, without a doubt, the talks will help peace and stability in the world. Otherwise the misleading and aimless preconditions are somehow wasting time and cannot lead to settle any problems. Furthermore, there is not such a thing [as freeze-for-freeze] written in the incentives package.
LAT:What’s the rush toward mastering the enrichment of uranium? Why is Iran in such a hurry to do this? Aren’t most scientific endeavors slow-going processes?
HOSSEINI: You know that energy is one of the main pillars of the development of any country. Without utilizing it, there is no chance for development and self-actualization in any aspect of a country. Most of the sources of energy in the world are fossil fuels, and there is a consensus that the fossil fuels are not renewable and are running out. So mankind is searching for new sources of energy.
Nuclear energy is cheap and clean and environmental experts admit that this energy is the best available energy in terms of non-pollution. Many of the Western countries have been using this energy for ages. In France, for instance, 80% of the total consumed energy comes from nuclear plants. The United Kingdom, U.S. and other countries are almost in the same situation. Those countries must have come to the conclusion many decades ago that nuclear energy is the best alternative.
Now that we have begun the process, you say we have in a rush? On the contrary, we have been lagging behind and we have delayed. Why in 1957 -- 50 years ago, when we had the monarchical dictatorship in Iran –- did the U.S. prescribe nuclear energy for Iran? They gave proposals for several nuclear power plants. The major European countries welcomed the American idea and commenced building a nuclear power plant in Bushehr. But the same countries, in the post-revolutionary time, did not honor their own undertakings. They left Iran one after the other while the plant was unfinished. This caused neck-breaking expenses on the Iranian nation.
Basically, why on earth should we deprive ourselves of this legal right within the nonproliferation treaty, with which we are in compliance with all its relevant agreements, or delay exercising our rights? What is the legal or lawful rationality to support the arguments of certain countries? Why do some countries illegally enjoy more rights for themselves and exert various pressures against other nations and deprive them from their inalienable rights?
Peaceful nuclear activities are underway within a 20-year vision plan. It’s natural that all the targets within the 20-year vision are not achieved overnight. The wrong approaches of certain powers have tarnished the image of the Iranian nation and caused confusion at the expense of the Iranian nation.
The Iranian nation has fulfilled its contribution to the history of human civilization and will keep on doing so. Nuclear technology is part and parcel of Iran’s comprehensive scientific road map. In recent years. The Iranian nation has achieved breakthroughs in high technologies, including medical science, genetics, cloning, nanotechnology, aerospace, electronic telecommunications, solar energy, aviation and so forth. All these achievements are beneficial to the Iranian nation.
LAT: Iran says the U.S. and its allies are behind a campaign of sabotage and terror in Iran. Can you disclose any evidence that would support that claim?
HOSSEINI: The evidence is plentiful, and it is enough simply to listen to official American statements in your own media –- overt approval of a budget for interfering in Iran’s domestic affairs in the U.S. Congress, guiding bomb-planting in Shiraz, supporting the dangerous and terrorist group of Jundollah, who are notorious in thieving and drug trafficking. Some of its own members are wanted by judicial officials in Iran and Pakistan.
Now look at ABC television, openly interviewing Abdul-Malek Rigi, the ringleader of the Jundollah terrorist group. And in Iraq, the terrorist group of the hypocrites, [or munafeqin, what Iranian officials derisively call the Mujahedin Khalq Organization], who are on the terrorist lists in Western countries, especially in the U.S., are active under the protection of U.S. troops in Iraq.
LAT: How does the Iranian government view the recent upsurge of violence in Afghanistan?
HOSSEINI: The reasons that we are now facing an Afghanistan [where] violence is spiking are the fault of occupiers led by the U.S. and U.K. They should be blamed because of their malpractice. I can enumerate some factors: First, the occupiers have not paid sufficient attention to the circumstances and convoluted realities of Afghan society.
Second, there is a slow-motion transfer of authority and sovereignty to the Afghan government and the occupiers keep interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan so that the government cannot fully exercise its authority in establishing law and order -- the militaristic approach of the U.S. troops does not allow the Afghan government to do so.
Also, secret talks and contacts between certain Western countries and terrorist gangs and illicit drug traffickers in Afghanistan have impaired the sovereignty of the Afghan central government. The helm of authority is not fully in the hands of the Afghan government.
For years, we have mentioned and reiterated that terrorism and drug trafficking are two sides of the same coin. Weakening one side leads to the weakening of the other side. Strengthening one side implies strengthening the other. When we are facing an Afghanistan in which illicit drug production is several times more then before the [U.S.] invasion, that was six years ago, we can only conclude that terrorist groups are accordingly stronger.
When certain Western countries are negotiating with Afghan extremist groups in some European capitals to convince them of power-sharing in the Afghan government, than we get a result in which extremists are given more room in Afghanistan for further escapades.
LAT: Iraqi officials often say that they wish Iran and the U.S. had better relations. What steps can the Iraqi government take to improve the climate between Tehran and Washington?
HOSSEINI: Relations and ties between countries are based on the will and decisions adopted by two countries, and third parties can barely play a role in bilateral relations. Iran’s role in supporting [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki’s government and supporting the democratic state-making process [in Iraq] is considerable, and we continue our contribution to enhancing security and stability in Iraq and we are committed to it.
LAT: Iran often says it wants the security situation in Iraq to improve. What steps has it taken in that direction?
HOSSEINI: The Islamic Republic of Iran has broad-based contacts with all political and religious groups, both Sunni and Shiite factions and tendencies. These communications and relations are unbreakable. They are based on religious, cultural and historic links and common interests and have always been improving and evolving for the better. You know that Iran has an eye-catching role in supporting the incumbent government in Iraq. We regard security and stability in Iraq as our security and stability and regional security and stability. The best and most irrefutable evidence proving that we are helping the security in Iraq is that we have the safest borders with Iraq, according to expert opinion.
LAT: Regarding Lebanon, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said Iran played a key role in bringing the two sides together in Doha, Qatar. Can you detail what happened?
HOSSEINI: The role of the Islamic Republic of Iran vis-a-vis Lebanese developments is always for rapprochement between the Lebanese groups and encouraging them to achieve consensus and agreement. In the Doha meetings, the diplomacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran was active in supporting dialogue and persuading all sides to get out of the crisis, insisting on designating a president for Lebanon, and contributing to expediting a mechanism for designating a president.
All sides admit that Iran’s role in the success of the Doha meeting was notable. Iran was closely consulting with Qatari officials, whose role in turn was very important. Qatari officials were good hosts to the Lebanese groups and Iran was in close contact with Qatari officials. We also talked to Lebanese groups to converge their stances and encourage them to have dialogue.
LAT: Regarding Syria, Israel is trying to entice Damascus to break away from its partnership with Iran. Is this something that the Iranian government fears?
HOSSEINI: We welcome any success of Syria in taking back any territory or rights from the usurpers. Iran-Syria relations are based on indisputable interests between the two nations based on mutual respect and common interests. In our opinion, no marginal event can affect the strong ties and relations between the two countries. This subject of the strong ties can be seen clearly in the stances stated by each country. The attempts of other countries to weaken Iran-Syria relations will be in vain.
LAT: Regarding Hamas, Israel recently began a cessation of hostilities with the group. Does the Iranian government support this fragile peace?
HOSSEINI: In our view, lifting the siege of the Gaza Strip is the result of the oppressed Palestinians’ steadfastness and resistance in order to liberate their lands from the occupier and also the result of the extremely weakened situation of the Zionist regime at the moment. Anyhow, to any extent that Palestinians can achieve their legitimate rights and reduce their agonies and pains and can enjoy security and welfare like other nations, we do support their legal and lawful demands.
LAT: What are Iran’s foreign policy strong points? What can it do better and should do better?
HOSSEINI: Our strategic objectives in foreign policy include diversifying our foreign relations geographically; actively participating in regional and international communities; making a positive impact on settling disputes and regional tensions; paving ways for promoting non-oil exports and exporting technical and engineering services and know-how, focusing particularly on Iranian expatriates living abroad and evaluating their potential; forming inter-parliamentary friendship groups; streamlining cultural and media cooperation.
In recent years, the facts show that despite certain countries' attempts to ignore the Islamic Republic of Iran, the role of our country in maintaining security and alleviating crises in the Middle East and Persian Gulf is vital and important.
Given its geostrategic situation, huge untapped economic potential, active, agile and cheerful human resources, cultural and ideological convergence with her neighboring countries and friendly relations with regional countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran enjoys a peerless position in the region which can be in the service of peace, stability and regional and international cooperation.
Fortunately our capacities are good enough in our foreign policy apparatus to pursue the aforementioned targets. Now we have enough knowledge, experience and capabilities to plan and perform diplomatic dialogue at a very high standard.
LAT: What is the top priority in your daily routine? The Middle East, Iraq, the nuclear issue?
HOSSEINI: Mostly reviewing the incentive package and our proposed package, and nuclear issues are things that we as diplomats are preoccupied with these days.
LAT: What do think about the news of a possible expanded U.S. interests section in Tehran to be active someday?
HOSSEINI: [Laughs] You are going too fast. I do not know if it is serious, officially we said if there is such a request, we will review it. [SEE UPDATE BELOW]
LAT: Can you imagine how long the line for visa applicants will be?
HOSSEINI: [Laughs] Do not be in a rush. Do not go so fast.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran
[June 27, 2008, UPDATE: Hosseini later called to clarify that Iran officially has no comment on the possibility of an expanded U.S. interests section in Tehran.]
Photos: From top, Mohammad Ali Hosseini (IRNA); Hosseini, left, and Times correspondent Ramin Mostaghim (Uncredited); Hosseini (Ramin Mostaghim)