A Conversation with Ali Akbar Salehi

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Ali Akbar Salehi
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: Good evening, everybody. I want to welcome you to the council. And tonight we have a really exciting occasion with the foreign minister of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi.

I want to do my due diligence. Take care of this right now. Turn it completely off. Don't just mute it. Don't put it on vibrate. Do everything short of destroying it. (Laughter.)

This meeting is on the record. So I want to -- want you all to keep that in mind. And our national members, some of them will be participating in this meeting via password-protected teleconference.

So at this time I'm going to read you a little bit about Dr. -- Minister Salehi.

Ali Akbar Salehi became minister of foreign affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran on January 30th, 2011. Prior to his appointment as foreign minister, Salehi served as vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran from 2009 to 2010. He was the deputy general -- deputy secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference from 2007 to 2009. From 1997 to 2005 Salehi served as Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA.

Before joining the IAEA, Salehi spent a number of years in academia. He was associate professor and then president of Sharif University of Technology. Salehi also served as the president of the International Islamic University in Tehran. He holds memberships with the Academy of Sciences; International Center for Theoretical Physics; Department of Engineering in the Council of Cultural Revolution; Higher Council for Scientific and International Cooperation; Energy Commission; Committee for the Promotion of Higher Education; and Board of Education in National Commission for UNESCO in the Islamic Republican of Iran. Salehi holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the American University in Beirut and a Ph.D. in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

We are very honored and pleased to have him here. Sir, will you join us? (Applause.)


(In Farsi.)

I'm very honored to be here once again. I was here last year. It was off-the-record meeting. Today is on-the-record meeting.

Well, it's always delightful to be in a country where I had my best of education. As it was pointed out, I did my Ph.D. here in the United States in the MIT. And we always cherish, and this is out of our tradition, whoever teaches you a word, he enslaves you. So I always have a lot of respect for my teachers and professors. And it so happened that I did my bachelor's also in one of the universities connected with the U.S., American University in Beirut.

Well, this year I -- the theme of my talk is about fear or phobia. Lawrence was just asking me -- asked me a while ago what is the difference between fear and phobia, and he explained to me what the difference is.

Anyway, in the name of God, the compassionate and the merciful, at the outset I would like to express my happiness for being in this gathering today and talk about the foreign policy of my country. Last year I tackled the state of analysis on the foreign policy of Iran and focused on the values and principles of our foreign policy and how they are applied to different situations.

Today I will focus on the issue of fear and how it is used in relation to our regional and international standing. Indeed, a sea change has occurred in our surrounding, as well as at the global level, as well as at the global level. Yet a continuous anti-Muslim and anti-Iran narrative, in the West and the United States, is quite striking.

It is creating a gulf between the perception on Iran and its realities on the ground. Iran is a part of solution to all of the regional challenges and crises, not as it is depicted by some who yearn and plan for nothing but conflict and confrontation.

It is no secret that the Western phobia mill and fear industry is at work with its multiple and simultaneous phobias -- Islamophobia, Shiaphobia, Iranophobia. This fear industry fabricates simple messages as Muslims are a menace, Shias are a danger, and Iranians are a threat.

Though its alarmist messages are simple, the fear industry is a complicated one in its machination and trajectory. It has its own ideology, methodology and policy apparatus. Its ideology is based on a dichotomous worldview that we are superior and the others, including Muslims, are inferior.

Its methodology is of a reductionist and selective nature, reducing the totality of a nation like Iran, with its deep-rooted traditions of several millennia, its revolution of historical magnitude and its sophisticated party secretary polity, to a single issue of nuclear activity, and reducing its peaceful nuclear project to a couple of baseless allegations.

In the policy realm, the fear industry is for defamation, labeling, sanction, confrontation and military attack. Though different in style, the fear industry specialists, be it in think tanks, administrative positions or media, are detached from reality and unable to understand intentions, capabilities, positions and policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They try to portray Iran as a problem for the region. Contrary to their pronouncements, Iran is the anchor of security, the stability and peace in its region.

No other nation's security is linked to the Persian Gulf as Iran is. The entire northern shore of this strategic gulf is Iranian, and our import and export are highly dependent upon a secure and a stable Persian Gulf.

It is not only the nature and geography which link our security with the security of our neighbors in the Persian Gulf. It is also our decision and policy (to work ?) with all of our neighbors for a more secure and a stable Persian Gulf. Our notion of the security of the Persian Gulf is an inclusive, collective and comprehensive one in which military, political, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions are taken into account. All extraregional schemes that are based on the artificial threat of Iran and the Persian Gulf are doomed to failure. Iran is the source of security in this water outlet. I would like to emphasize once again that Iran is a regional provider of security. I wish to underline, a regional provider of security.

Thanks to our Islamic revolution and the eight years of resistance of our people to the aggression of Saddam Hussein, then a proponent of Iranian threat and a player much beloved by the West, today our security is totally produced domestically, as opposed to imported security by some countries in our region.

The history of the last five centuries vividly demonstrates that the real source of insecurity in the Persian Gulf has been international players and not the littoral states. The so-called Iranian threat in the Persian Gulf is a strategic commodity produced and sold by outsiders and their local clients. The same notion applies to the other regional security issues. Iran is for a secure, prosperous and stable Iraq, and we are doing our best in this respect. We have the same principles for other neighbors, including Afghanistan.

Now let me focus on our policy on Syria, a hot issue in our region. I hope you recall, at least some of you, what I mentioned here last year when I compared hasty politics with patient politics. Some regional and international actors were of quick and hasty changes in Syria through external interventionist and violent means. Our position was and is that political reform and change cannot be imposed by outsiders. It is illegal, highly costly, counterproductive and dangerous. It is outdated colonialism in new shape.

For stability in Syria, the engagement of all parties, including the government, is a necessity. Hasty politics and foreign intervention under any guise will only aggravate the situation and lead to more bloodshed and killing of innocent people. We believe the Syrian crisis has a political solution and not a military one. More militarization of Syrian situation will have significant ripple effects in our region. This is the reason why Iran supports regional political initiative.

I was recently in Cairo with my Egyptian and Turkish counterparts for following up what President Morsi suggested in the Non-Aligned Movement summit held in Tehran at the end of August. Undoubtedly, Iran will maximize its efforts for finding a political solution to this conflict. Nobody needs new civil wars, sectarian conflicts, terrorist havens, a failed state and an international military intervention in Syria.

If we review another regional security issue, which is the manifestation of vicious intentions of those bankrupted politicians who are in the business of adding fuel to regional wars -- I mean the propaganda and psychological warfare of attacking Iran -- first of all, you, as specialists and highly educated on international affairs, know well that during the last few centuries, we Iranians never launched a war but zealously have defended our country, and will do so by all means. However, the statements on attacking Iran, for whatever reasons it may be, is against regional and international peace and security.

Why statements of this sort are made? Different explanations have been made by political commentators. Some argue that the phrase "attacking Iran" is a response to identity and security crisis of Israel and absolutely for domestic political consumption. Some others do believe such pronouncements are nothing but intervention in the American politics and the election favoring one candidate over the other. Another explanation has been offered; in other words, to engage the U.S. in another war in order to marginalize the most important issue in the Middle East, the plight of Palestinians and the occupation of Palestine.

Common in all of these explanations is the fact that the Israeli ruling clan, who are war drum beaters, use the pretext of Iranian nuclear threat for own political gains (and games ?). Iran, as a member of NPT, is working with the IAEA and negotiating with the 5-plus-one to address the mutual concerns. However, Israel is not a party to any disarmament conventions, including the NPT, and is the major impediment for Middle East to be declared as a nuclear-free zone. Having at least 200 nuclear bombs in its arsenal, in fact Israel is the most significant source of instability and insecurity in the region and, indeed, the liability for American Middle Eastern policies.

Iran is playing its positive regional and international responsible role regardless of American and Israeli desires. The NAM summit in Tehran is a testimony to this fact. The summit reflected the desire for multiple voices and narrative of international politics and not a unipolar world. It was the global south resisting domination. It demonstrated that there is a great space for international cooperation.

In our foreign policy, cooperation for expanding bilateral and multilateral ties is the key defining concept, especially in issues related to regional security. Iran is a responsible regional player with legitimate security concern. We continue to defend the interests of our country, which is nothing but have a region devoid of insecurity, conflict and instability.

And thank you very much. (Applause.)

WRIGHT: Well, thank you very much for those remarks.

I want to begin by addressing the question of phobias because, as I travel in the Muslim world, I think that America-phobia is a big problem. And a most recent expression of it is this -- this amateurish movie, the "Innocence of Muslims," which has inflamed Muslims all over the place. And as a result of this, Iran, which won best foreign picture last year at the Academy Awards, has decided not to participate in the Academy Awards this year, as if some 15-minute trailer by a knucklehead bigot reflects American policy or the wishes of the Academy of Motion Pictures, which had nothing to do with this. This is, to me a reflection of an official reaction that suggests that America had something to do with it, that it reflects the will of the American people, when you must know that that's not at all true.

SALEHI: Well, we are against any kind of phobia, including Americaphobia. I said -- and it -- and I've said it many times -- the Iranian nation's -- and every American can testify to this, those Americans who have visited Iran, even those who have visited lately Iran -- that they have a lot of respect for the American nation. We have absolutely no animosity. The two people, the two nations have no animosity towards each other.

I was just saying to a friend that if an American now goes to Iran and asks a taxi driver to take him somewhere, he -- the taxi driver, if he finds out he is an American, he may not charge him, but he will charge me.

And so we are against any kind of phobia, including the Americaphobia.

But the slander against our prophet, you see -- (audio break) -- what happened in Libya and compare the reaction in other Muslim (words ?). And -- (audio break) -- and of course all Muslims rose against this, but in some countries they went beyond the limits of what was expected in just announcing your dislike for something -- (audio break) -- sort of happened.

So in a nutshell, we are against any phobias, including Americaphobia. That's what I am -- I'm sort of cautioning everybody. You see, when -- there is a saying in Persian which says the one who digs the well, he may fall into the well. So as somebody who starts the phobia, he will then have to invite the phobia -- (inaudible) -- probably for -- (audio break) -- one has to avoid sort of getting into any sort of action that would at the end of the day reflect upon the one who had initiated it.

WRIGHT: There are, I think, many things that we could -- many bridges we could build if we understood each other better, and there are some things that I'm sure that our members would like to understand better.

And I'll begin by asking some things that I don't understand, and they may seem naive, but for instance, you mentioned the occupation of the Palestinian territories as the most important issue in the Middle East. Many countries are opposed to the Israeli occupation of those territories -- not just Arab countries, in Western countries. Many countries have an interest in bringing stability and peace to that region.

But Iran has emerged as a principal supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, which have done so much to destabilize that region and have added so little to the prospect of peace. So I wonder what Iran gets out of this issue. As foreign minister, how does Iran benefit from its stance, its aggressive stance, in this -- in this posture?

SALEHI: Actually, what is the source of destabilization -- is -- Hamas was asking for its right of freedom, for regaining back its land, or is it somebody else who has occupied that land?

So if we support, morally and politically, Hamas, does that mean we are destabilizing the region? In fact we are looking at the source of destabilization. What Iran is suggesting for the resolution of this case is to hold a -- what you call it -- a referendum of all those who are living in so -- in Palestine and also the Palestinians who are outside, living in -- outside Palestine or -- (audio break) -- to take part in this referendum and choose the government of their choice and have (one ?) government and everybody, Jews, Christians, Muslims, as they had lived for centuries, for millennia -- they may as well carry on living peacefully and in security together.

So when we declare our support or express our position vis-a-vis Hamas or any other movement that are justice seeker, from our perspective, and freedom seekers, then this is really, in fact, trying to help stabilizing the region rather than destabilizing the region. We are looking at the core of the problem. This problem has to be resolved. And stop further bloodsheds, atrocities and aggravation of the situation and bringing it to a deadlock -- I think the suggestion by Iran is a very logical, rational and prudent suggestion. Everybody comes to the polling and are to identify the form of the government that would embrace all the ethnicities living in Palestine under one umbrella and live in security and peace.

WRIGHT: Well, so far this posture of supporting Hamas and Hezbollah has certainly not contributed to the regional stability and peace that you're suggesting you're in favor of. And I ask again, what does Iran get out of it? I can understand, you know, if you're proposing it as a good-will gesture on the part of the Palestinians. But for your own country, what benefit do you draw from this?

SALEHI: You see, based on our Islamic tenets and also our constitution, we are -- it's incumbent upon us to assist those who are oppressed and to stand against those who are oppressors. And if we express our view on a certain issue, why should this bother anybody? There are so many issues between different countries that they may disagree on. Even Europe -- Western Europe and the U.S., which are strategic partners, even in the case of Iraq, they did not -- they were in total disagreement with each other. And so there are always issues that different countries may differ. And -- but this does not mean that having differences of views should be translated into animosity or any source of threat vis-a-vis one another. So we have our views.

WRIGHT: I am not questioning that you have views. I -- my question is why do you adopt this posture, and what do you -- what do you receive from it? As a foreign minister, your relationship to the world is partly defined -- in large part defined by this. So -- and it has caused a great deal of trouble for your country. So I'm struggling to understand what one thing Iran would get from having the support of these two different groups.

SALEHI: See, we have learned by mere fact of history that truth is something that eventually emerges. You cannot subdue truth. And so when you stand with the right, when you stand with something which is basically -- has the nature of truth in it, we may face difficulties, but at the end, we will emerge as the one who had taken the right position, because when we speak of history, years do not count. Even centuries are little paragraphs in a history book.

So we are looking for the good and the -- for the interests of all groups in the Middle East. When we speak of stability and security in the Middle East, we mean it wholeheartedly. Stability and security -- why do we mean it? Because in the first place, it is in our national interest. And therefore, any prudent person -- anybody that has some providence in him would like to see security and stability so that he lives in peace and security and stability. Therefore, we stand with just causes, and we believe that, yes, you may encounter some difficulties, you may encounter pressure, but the just cause eventually will show itself.

We have many examples. Look at the Vietnam War. Look at other examples around. And look at the -- (inaudible) -- Saddam Hussein. I remember at the time we have so much difficulty in justifying our position. It was -- although it was clear like (sun ?), they would say, oh, you know, as the aggressor, Iran is so; Iran is that; Iran is the guilty part. And -- but eventually everything was exposed. The reality was exposed to the entire international community, who was just, who was right and who was on the side of the -- righteousness and truth. And here we are, where Saddam is and where Iran is.

WRIGHT: I will take your response to say that what Iran gets out of this relationship is one of principle, but there's no tangible benefit to your country the way that there was in the case of Iraq. But even if that's so, I understand that the Iranian constitution demands that you protect Muslims wherever they're threatened. In taking that principle, why would you support a largely secular regime in Syria, which has murdered more Muslims, not just in this regime but in the previous Assad regime, than probably Israel has in its entire existence?

SALEHI: We support the Syrian people, and we have stated many times over and over. The first time I made my position clear vis-a-vis the crisis in Syria, it was more than a year and few months ago. And we said it is incumbent upon the people -- upon the government of Syria to meet the legitimate demands of the Syrian people and that the Syrian people, like any other people in any democratic country, are entitled to democracy, are entitled to freedom. And so the government of Syria will have to meet these demands. And there was an article, I was told, in New York Times: Has Iran changed its position vis-a-vis Syria? But that was our position then, and this is our position now.

We have -- and I have said it in my statement that we are for the people of Syria to gain their freedom and democracy, but at the same time, we're against international interference. What is happening now in Syria, as you just refer -- I refer you to the Western intelligence reports, which says that many foreign fighters, specifically and more importantly including the extremists and al-Qaida, are now fighting in Syria against the government and committing all these atrocities to tarnish the -- I'm not -- I'm not trying to acquit the Syrian government, but also these atrocities committed by others is tarnishing the image of the Syrian government.

But the Syrian government -- we have said it also. We wish that they had taken a better position vis-a-vis their people in the outbreak of the uprising. There were some mistakes committed, but this does not justify in any way interference from outside.

We are not in a position -- I do not -- I speak on -- on the part of my country, on behalf of my country. We never think, ever, to tell the president of a country, please step down. I mean, imagine somebody comes and tells the president of the U.S., please step down because there are some people who dislike you. I mean, even if that is a fact, even if the majority of the people don't like the president of their country, it is not upon another country to go to that particular country and ask the president of the country to step down. This is -- this has to be left to the people of Syria to resolve their issue.

Now, we have been in contact with the opposition, although discreetly in the beginning because the government of Syria didn't like it. But eventually we discussed with them that we have to recognize the opposition. So we have been in contact with the opposition for over a year, and we have declared and announced that we are ready to host the opposition and the government in Iran to facilitate for the coming together, sit with each other and find a solution.

Now, if the case of Syria is in your question, then I can explain further as to what we -- we had this meeting in Cairo and then I had a number of meeting with -- meetings with Mr. Brahimi and with Mr. Nabil Arabi, and I am happy to say that I just had a meeting also with Mr. Larsen, although we were discussing the issues in the region, but we also alluded to the issue of Syria, because he is not in charge of Syria -- of the Syrian file, (as Mr. Brahimi ?). But nevertheless, we shared our views and we almost are -- our views converge.

And I put my ideas together. I presented a paper yesterday to Mr. Brahimi, Nabil Arabi and to the four countries comprising the Quartet. And here we are. We are speaking or we are on the same wavelength with Mr. Brahimi, with the other countries in the Quartet. So Iran -- and we are cognizant of the fact that Iran cannot take the lead because you may not be looked upon as objective broker in this regard, so as the case with other countries who have taken side -- (who ?) side with the other side.

So we -- specifically my country has a stress upon the fact that we have to support Mr. Brahimi's initiative and mission and give him all support so that -- because as the U.N. -- he can be represented as the most objective and partial person, entity or institution or whatever organization.

WRIGHT: It's one thing to say that we should stand aside and let the Syrian people make their decision, but it's another to arm the Syrian government against its own people, which the American government accuses you of doing. Is the -- is the Iranian government prepared to say that we will stop all arms shipments to the Syrian government until there's a resolution to this crisis?

SALEHI: The Syrian government, because of the past wars that they had with Israel, has amassed enough arms in the past 50 years that it does not need further arms to be sent to Syria to stand against a number of extremists who are taking arms against the Syrian government. The Syrian government, to the best of my knowledge and information -- I am not (certain ?) hundred percent, but they have more than 500,000 elements in their army and fully equipped. I don't think a government like Syria needs further weapons to be sent to them. And it is the contrary.

The question here is, why is the opposition being supported so heavily with heavy arms? And this is not what I'm saying. Look at the Guardian report and other Western reports that already have admitted the fact that the West -- well, specifically, some of the countries in the region, I think this is more appropriate to say -- that they are heavily arming the extremists in Syria. So I think the side to blame more is the side that is injecting these extremists elements into Syria and arming them with heavy artillery.

Imagine you are in a country and there is an opposition in the country, and opposition comes with heavy artillery expressing its demands. What does a government, a responsible government do? Will it just step down because they have the heavy artillery in their hands? I mean, yes, there is -- we should make it -- differentiate between peaceful demonstrations and extremists taking arms, heavy artillery arms, mortars -- I don't know, I am not an expert in arms, I don't know their names very well -- but all kinds of heavy arms and weapons into their hands and fighting the government.

WRIGHT: I'm going to --

SALEHI: And by the way -- just the last --

WRIGHT: Certainly.

SALEHI: The information we have from Aleppo is that people themselves in Aleppo are rising against the so-called extremist insurgents because they have seen the atrocities. And that was a lost battle for the government in Aleppo, but it has changed; it has turned around simply because people are standing against the insurgents.

WRIGHT: I am going to turn to our members now. And we want you to speak into the microphone, wait for the microphone, stand, state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question. Keep it concise so we can allow as many members as possible to speak. So if someone can bring this lady the --

QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible.) It is by the admission of one of your officials, Mr. Minister, that the national guard of Iran is in Syria and Lebanon -- for that matter, the country that gave you education. It is -- this is in -- this -- are clearly a violation of a Security Council resolution that prohibits Iran from sending personnel, armed personnel or arms into another country. How -- you know, you said that you don't have that -- you're accusing only the opposition, but you're actively supporting the regime at the expense of the opposition. How long will you be able to go on with this -- with the news we heard the last couple of days, the devaluation of your currency close to 28 percent in the last week? Can you go on bankrolling Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Syrian regime? Thank you.

SALEHI: Do I answer one by one, or --

WRIGHT: You go ahead and answer each of them.

SALEHI: Yes. Well, if you go to the -- our new sites -- well, you may probably say this is a claim like any other country claims (is ?), but we have a vibrant, I would say, media, and this is the truth. Yes, many countries have this vibrant media. So do we. And you can see all kinds of, I would say, objections to our president, even for his visit to Iran -- to the U.S., if you just go back and see our sites.

Concerning your question, we, the foreign ministry, has totally denied what has been quoted from the person you just alluded to. And yes, we support Hezbollah. We support Hamas. We have said this. This is no secret.

But we have many forms of support. We have never denied this. This is what I said at the outset.

But saying that we have sent troops to Lebanon, that we have sent troops to --

QUESTIONER: National -- (off mic) --

SALEHI: -- I mean national guard, whether military troops, police, let them -- let the government of Lebanon arrest them and give them back to us. It's as easy as this. You cannot have -- I mean, Lebanon is sovereign country, has a relatively well-trained army. If there is national guard troops in Lebanon, go ahead and arrest them and then send them back to Iran.

So that is not -- I mean --

WRIGHT: We have a question right here.


QUESTIONER: Mr. Minister, Evelyn Leopold, a journalist at the United Nations, contributor to Huffington Post. Just one brief comment -- (inaudible). It's the first time in 20 years at the U.N. that have I've an Iranian official say "Israel" instead of "Zionist entity" in a public place.

But my question is, since you are an expert on --

SALEHI: You want me to change the position? (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I just find it very interesting. Since you're an expert on the nuclear talks, do you expect to see any progress in the three-plus-three, five-plus-one talks that -- after November or in the next few weeks? Or did you make any during this General Assembly?

SALEHI: Yes -- (audio break) --

WRIGHT: Yes, go ahead. I --

SALEHI: Yes, I have -- yes, we had -- we held a number of meetings with many countries while we were at the U.N., on the sideline of the U.N, and we have discussed this issue, the nuclear file.

And you see, this is a politicized issue. It requires a political solution. It's not really a technical issue, although it may have been marketed as a technical issue, but it is a political issue. And that's why we are negotiating with the five-plus-one, because those who are negotiating are not technical men, they are policymakers, diplomats.

I would say each time that the two sides came close to some kind of understanding, mutual understanding, somehow it was disrupted. And you are experts (around ?) politicians and diplomats. A phantom third party has disrupted this. And so -- but we have not lost hope, neither us nor the five-plus-one. It has been decided, in the last meeting that the five-plus-one had in New York, that they will follow up the five-plus-one negotiation with Iran -- (inaudible) -- they are about to set a date and --


WRIGHT: This gentleman right back here.

QUESTIONER: Dan Yergin from IHS. This is a question about atomic energy, but a practical question, not a political question. You've seen advanced countries like Germany and Japan shutting down nuclear power and instead emphasizing natural gas. Of course Iran has an enormous amount of natural gas. Is there any thinking or movement to de-emphasize the need for atomic energy and instead to look to your natural gas resources to generate electricity?

SALEHI: Just briefly, before the revolution, the -- one American institution called the Stanford Research Institute, SRI, put out a 20-volume -- a development plan for Iran, a 20-year development plan for Iran. It is 20 volumes. It was in that report a recommendation that Iran should go nuclear. And the report was drafted in 1973, around that time.

So if we went according to the plan, we should have had by 1993 20 nuclear power plants like the Bushehr power plant. But we still have only one.

So this was a recommendation put forth by experts from the U.S., best experts. I've read that recommendation. It was a beautiful development plan for 20 years.

So when we speak of energy, we have to speak of energy mix. It's not that you have gas, that you have to put all your, as they say, eggs in one basket. You have to look for an energy mix. You have a lot of sources of energy in the U.S., but still you have nuclear; you have gas; you have coal; you have renewable energies. You have all these energies put together. Now, when you -- (inaudible) -- when you spoke of Japan, my last information, which was just a few days ago, the Japanese government declared that they will have to go -- continue with the nuclear power plant activities.

WRIGHT: I'm going to take a question --

SALEHI: It's only Germany that has --

WRIGHT: -- from one of our national members, Nicholas Rockefeller at the Rockefeller Pacific Trust in Los Angeles. His question reflects something that many people have been thinking about recently. In our own journal, Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Waltz made an argument about -- that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would increase the stability of the Middle East. The New York Times had a similar op-ed. So there's some thinking in this country about this. So stopping short of Waltz's conclusion, Mr. Rockefellers says, but with the analogy to his reasoning, what is the evidence that an Iranian nuclear program, exclusive of and without weaponry, could provide substantial benefits to Iran domestically? And if Iran had the bomb, would the world -- this is not Mr. Rockefeller's question -- would there be greater stability in this region?

SALEHI: No. No. I have uttered this position many, many times before. It's not because that we want to go around this issue and -- (inaudible) -- justify our nuclear activities, peaceful nuclear activities. But I just want to base my reasoning on wisdom and rationality.

Had Iran chosen to go nuclear, in the sense of weaponization, that certainly would not be deterrent for Iran. On the contrary, it would -- I don't know what is the opposite word. It would attract more threat and invite more threat from the other side, because suppose we wanted to go nuclear and manufacture one or two rudimentary bombs. Who is on the other side? It's not India and Pakistan. Seemingly, it is Iran and the U.S. Can we ever be on equal footing with the U.S. in this regard? Does any rational person will think to challenge U.S., a country like Iran, nuclearwise? Certainly not, because if you have one or two bombs, you want to use it against whom? Who is our enemy?

We are one of the few countries in the world that has many neighbors, 15 neighbors -- 15 neighbors, but -- and we have the best of relationship with them. Although we may differ, and we have some -- like any two other countries -- two countries who may have differences -- we have our differences. But we have good relationships. So we are not threatened by our neighbors. So we don't want -- and the U.S. is thousands of miles away. So why should we have a nuclear bomb? Why should we have a nuclear bomb? This is one. This is just based on rational thinking.

Next is our ethical and moral values. We claim -- this is a claim. You may accept it, or you may deny it. We are a moral-driven political -- I would say entity. So this morally driven political entity can never, ever accept something that would go against its tenets, that would go against its principles, its beliefs. And we oppose war. When we had this -- Saddam Hussein's war against -- I wouldn't call it Iraq's war -- Saddam Hussein's war against Iran, he used chemical weapons. And now the entire international community recognizes that. We have more than hundred people have been inflicted with this chemical weapon. People are still in the hospitals, in European hospitals, in our own hospitals, hundred thousand people, more than a hundred thousand people. But we did not react -- I mean, we did not react likewise. We didn't use nuclear weapons against the Iraqi people because this was against our tenets. Late imam said, you cannot kill innocent people.

This was a courageous war we had, and that's why we are here. That's why Iran is Iran, and this is what we see about Iraq, totally destroyed country. And Iran is the foremost country among the 57 Muslim countries, both in -- I mean, in many domains, in science, technology and -- which Muslim country has been able to put its own indigenous satellites for three times consecutively and successfully with its own launcher into orbit? Which other 57 countries, including Turkey, has been able to clone animals and produce transgenic medicine?

I mean, this is -- this -- all this stems from attaching ourself and committing ourself to our beliefs. Yes, we are not impeccable. We do not claim that we have absolutely no shortcomings. Nobody claims that. We are not impeccable. We have our own shortcomings. But we are on the right track. And we are a system that it remedies itself when it finds, on occasions, that it has gone wrong. So this is important. The government and the people in Iran are integrated entities, they are one and the same. And that's why the country is moving, despite all the constraints and pressure that it's facing.

WRIGHT: I think we have time for this lady's question here with the gray sleeve that's sticking -- there you are.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Laurie Garrett, from the council. Given the terrible legacy you just referred to, the suffering of your people with chemical weapons during the war with Iraq, if the Syrian government makes use of its well-known stockpiles of either biological or chemical weapons, and the wind blows said weapons across your border, claiming Iranian lives, this -- will this, number one, be considered a national security threat? And number two, what sorts of security responses would this merit from the Iranian military forces?

SALEHI: Certainly, that situation is a situation that will end everything. I mean --

Did I say atomic bomb?

MR. : (Off mic.)

SALEHI: Chemical bomb. I meant -- we didn't use chemical bomb against -- I'm sorry, it seems a slip of the tongue.

So if any country, any country, including Iran, uses weapons of mass destruction, that is the end of the validity, eligibility, legality, whatever you name it, of that government. Weapons of mass destruction, as we said, is against humanity. It's something that is not at all acceptable. And therefore, if your hypothesis, God forbid, ever materializes, I think nobody can justify it anymore, nobody can go along with anybody who has been involved in such act of -- I would say inhuman act.

WRIGHT: Alas, we are very strict about time in this organization, and we've reached the 7:00 hour. And I'm going to have to ask you to thank the minister for his presence here. (Applause.) And thank you.

SALEHI: Thank you.

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