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What Iran Wants

Interviewee: Manouchehr Mottaki, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
September 30, 2009

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Revelations of a secret uranium-enrichment plant near the city of Qom have renewed fears that Iran's nuclear endeavors are designed to produce an atomic bomb, a claim Iranian officials vehemently dispute. In an interview with CFR.org, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Tehran has always operated within international legal boundaries, and seeks acknowledgement of this fact. Iran is hoping the October 1 talks in Geneva will trigger a broader dialogue of cooperation, from expanding economic partnerships to shaping new security frameworks. These issues will in turn serve as a bridge to more specific issues. "We have given three topics in the proposed package and that makes it possible for all parties to enter into discussions," he says, "even about the nuclear program."

Iran meets with the international community tomorrow in Geneva. Is Iran ready to talk about its nuclear program and address demands that Western governments have made regarding the halting of uranium enrichment?

First of all, we hope that we will have constructive discussions. By presenting a package of proposals, we wanted to show that Iran is serious for these negotiations. We have given three topics in the proposed package and that makes it possible for all parties to enter into discussions even about the nuclear program. That also includes political and security issues, economic matters, and international cooperation. And in the international part, some matters can be dedicated to the nuclear programs and nuclear issues. We are optimistic about the talks tomorrow. Because the negotiations are taking place after a long time, we should not have much expectation. Maybe that requires formation of some committees to continue the process. [With such committees] a different level can be done and continuation of dialogue can be defined and determined.

A senior member of parliament, Hassan Ghafourifard, has suggested that Iran would be willing to withdraw (Press TV) from the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the international community doesn't drop its demands that Iran stop enriching uranium. Is this something Iran is considering doing?

We are not going to compromise our legal rights under any circumstances toward the enjoyment of legal activities. And we have no plan at the moment to withdraw from the NPT.

How about allowing expanded inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities? A recent public opinion poll (PDF) suggests your public favors an approach that would allow for Iran to continue enriching uranium, but would give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expanded access. Is that a possible solution?

We provide complete cooperation with the agency within the framework of our commitments in accordance with NPT and within the framework of the international law regulations.

Recognition of [nuclear] rights by these countries should not be only on paper. It must be fulfilled on the ground. That is what we are arguing. And we believe that must be respected and recognized in practice.

Can you map out for us what a successful framework would look like based on talks tomorrow? Specifically, what is Iran looking for?

If you go to the nuclear issue, we believe that the rights of all member states to the IAEA and NPT must be respected within the framework of international laws and regulations. Recognition of such rights by these countries should not be only on paper. It must be fulfilled on the ground. That is what we are arguing. And we believe that must be respected and recognized in practice.

An issue the international community has focused on recently: revelations of an enrichment facility near Qom. When will Tehran allow international access to this site? The White House has asked for access within weeks. There's been some speculation--including comments from the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization--that a decision will be made "soon." Can you be more specific?

The date will be discussed and coordinated within the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran and the IAEA later on. They would exchange letters. So from our side, there is no problem. Any date that is agreed between the two sides would be respected and the visit or access will be exercised.

What will access include? Blueprints and plans of the facility? And will the access be unfettered, unrestricted?

Whatever can be done within the present regulations and the commitments of the member state to the agency [IAEA].

Can you clear up for me where, exactly, the facility in question is? A spokesman for the foreign ministry has said the facility is in Fordo, a village which is south of Qom. Independent nuclear analysts suggest it's built in a mountain north of Qom (PDF).

Because I have not yet visited the site, my information might not be very exact and correct.

So we have to rely on the New York Times?

You can do that [laughs] but I should first see the site and then say where it is. But clearly it must be in the area surrounding Qom.

Does that suggest there's more than one?

We will announce anything we have.

President Obama was misled based on wrong information and wrong analysis [regarding the Iranian enrichment facility near Qom]. The wrong analysis was provided by the British. Wrong information by certain terrorist groups.

When President Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain disclosed the facility in Pittsburgh last week, one of their main concerns was of transparency and trust. We've had a long discussion in the media over the last couple of days about the legal responsibilities that Iran has on disclosure. But is there a moral responsibility to be more transparent with its facilities?

Iran has always laid emphasis on the legal framework of the question. But unfortunately from the other side, especially during the former U.S. administration [of George W. Bush], they always tried to take a political attitude toward the question. During the years of our membership in the agency, Iran has always [gone] beyond its commitments in the IAEA. While we had no obligation to suspend our legal activities, we did it for confidence building, given the fact that [the] Additional Protocol (PDF) is not mandatory and it was not approved by the parliament in Iran. We implemented the Additional Protocol for two years for confidence building. But the Americans have never told or informed the international community of the new generation of nuclear bombs they have built. We always act based on transparent methods. And the basis of our work is legal and international frameworks. And we think there should be a balance between your rights and your obligations. We cannot just focus on obligations without considering or recognizing the rights of the members. Or countries cannot say we only want our rights to be recognized but we have no obligations. So, we do everything based on the legal framework, and our activities are transparent and within the framework of international law and regulations.

But the question is Iran's responsibility. You made reference to American responsibilities, but just yesterday, the secretary-general of the UN expressed concern that Iran wasn't meeting its responsibility to be transparent. Indeed he had a conversation with you on that very subject. So it's not just the United States that is calling for transparency. The secretary-general of the UN is saying the same thing.

In your previous question you referred to the statements in Pittsburgh. I would like to add a few things to that and then we can deal with the statements of the secretary-general. We think in Pittsburgh, President Obama was misled based on wrong information and wrong analysis.  The wrong analysis was provided by the British. Wrong information by certain terrorist groups.

Which terror groups are you referring to?

Usually you know these channels of wrong information. It seems to me that President Obama should be very mindful of these issues and statements. He's very much interested in starting or introducing a new approach in his work. He can be regarded as an opportunity for the people of the United States in trying to change the face of America before the world. So he must be very cautious. It [would have been] very easy for him to ask all these things from the agency.

About the statements of the UN secretary-general. In a meeting with him, we encouraged the secretary-general to take a position based on the United Nations frameworks and the international laws and regulations because there shouldn't be the impression that he always takes positions after members of the Security Council take positions about Iran. We have done everything and we have carried out all our obligations as a member state to the IAEA. Of course we have never accepted and implemented the resolutions of the Security Council for suspension of Iran's legal activities. We believe that according to the United Nations charter, the Security Council has no right to deny other nations of their own rights or exercising their rights. For this reason we believe that the United Nations needs to be restructured. For this reason, we believe that the secretary-general must be elected by [the] GA [General Assembly], not by the Security Council. Certain countries are looking for having a weak secretary-general within the framework of the United Nations. A former secretary-general of the United Nations once told me that some countries are trying to delete the word "general" from his position.

And yet that perception question remains, the perception that the facility at Qom was kept secret.

Some told us we announced that late. Others told us we announced early. Some others asked why we announced before October 1. And if we did it after October 1, there might be some other people asking why you did it after October 1. We exercised; we did everything according to our obligations. We never lied beyond our obligations, if not going beyond the obligations and [doing] more.

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