NewsSpecial WireAn interview with Iran’s new nuclear chief

An interview with Iran’s new nuclear chief


Iran Focus: Tehran, Jul. 21 – Unlike his fellow hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ali Ardeshir Larijani does not perfectly fit the stereotype mould of an Iranian ultra-conservative. His expensive suit, well-groomed hair, gentle manners and soft-spoken words are a world apart from the scruffy looks, brusque behaviour and coarse language of most other scions of the Islamic Republic’s hard-line camp.
He has a reputation for being imperturbable. Iran Focus

Tehran, Jul. 21 – Unlike his fellow hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ali Ardeshir Larijani does not perfectly fit the stereotype mould of an Iranian ultra-conservative. His expensive suit, well-groomed hair, gentle manners and soft-spoken words are a world apart from the scruffy looks, brusque behaviour and coarse language of most other scions of the Islamic Republic’s hard-line camp.

He has a reputation for being imperturbable. Friends say when an angry President Mohammad Khatami, incensed with a television programme aired on Larijani’s orders that undermined his government, ordered him to leave the cabinet meeting and never return, he left without uttering a word.

This quietness may have even cost him his long-held ambition of becoming president. Larijani’s languid speech and uninspiring ideological monologues proved to be no match for the populist style of firebrand Ahmadinejad, who became an instant star for the fist-clenching, teeth-grinding bearded Islamic zealots who make up the bulk of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Bassij.

It is said that the Supreme Leader groomed Larijani for the presidency, but in the end concluded that he would be more suited to act in the shadow of a more extroverted populist.

It would be naïve, however, to judge Larijani solely by his appearance. His outward manners conceal the long career of a man often referred to as the “favourite son” of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In long years of service to the Islamic Republic as a senior officer of the Revolutionary Guards, Minister of Islamic Guidance, and director-general of the state-run radio and television, Larijani has been a loyal and committed soldier of Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution.

Since the recent presidential elections, it has become increasingly clear that Larijani will be the second most powerful man in the new ultra-conservative administration. As the confirmed new boss of Iran’s nuclear talks with the European trio and a strong candidate for the Foreign Ministry portfolio, the lean man with fair complexion from Iran’s Caspian region will be one to watch. This interview, conducted last week, sheds some light on his thoughts and plans.

The interview was aired on Jam-e Jam television last week

Q. What do you see as the main achievement of Khatami’s government?
A. The advancement in nuclear technology was one of the most important national gains under his administration. This could be a sound basis for our technological power.
The second achievement was that the political development that Mr. Khatami began led to the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad as his successor. This government was thus able to pick a good successor for itself. It’s an important achievement.

Q. Under Mr. Khatami, Iran was able to expand its ties with the outside world. With Mr. Ahmadinejad, will we see a retreat to the past?
A. I’m not his spokesman and it’s best to ask him for his views on foreign policy. But the general policies of the country with regard to foreigners and our diplomacy, as well as the economic, cultural and educational policies, are accepted by the entire government. These issues are discussed in the State Expediency Council and all the various factions are involved. I don’t think the broad outline of our diplomacy will change, but there may be changes in tactics, speed and professionalism. There may also be new initiatives in our diplomacy. The new government is not going to stand idly by. It will want to have a new approach, but this will be in its tactics and initiatives. The basic orientations will not change, I think.

Q. If there is not going to be a fundamental change, why is it that the West is showing a strong reaction? Don’t they know that they will have to put up with this new government for four or eight years?
A. They are after their own objectives. The developments of the past few weeks are not a coincidence. The way the Belgians treated [Majlis Speaker”> Haddad Adel’s visit was an eye-opener. For 28 years, alcoholic drinks have not been served in functions attended by Iranian officials, so why does this suddenly become an issue? Or the utterly undiplomatic position of the Italian Minister of Interior about Mr. Ahmadinejad and the elections in Iran was completely illogical. They are insulting the choice of the Iranian people. The Greens held a meeting in the European Parliament after the elections in Iran and hyped up the question of human rights. Then a host of issues were raised about Mr. Ahmadinejad, including his involvement in the hostage-taking of the American embassy in Tehran or in the assassination of [Iranian Kurdish leader Abdurrahman”> Ghassemlou in Vienna. These were false accusations, of course, but why are they raising these issues? Because the West was taken by surprise by the results of presidential elections in Iran. The West did not expect this turnout and did not expect Ahmadinejad to win. The elections showed that Iranians have a strong will to pursue their demands, one of which is the nuclear technology. Everyone knows that nuclear technology is a national demand. The West is facing a democracy in Iran. There might be bickering inside the country about the elections, but there was a seven-million vote difference that cannot be ignored. The West could not overshadow the strong will of the Iranian people and the democracy in Iran. Now this new government wants to rely on this asset to pursue the demands of the Iranian people, including the nuclear issue.
The West wants to discredit the elections and create questions about them, so that they will be able to challenge the consequences of the elections. But all this is rooted in the theory that the American administration is following since Ms. Rice became Secretary of State. She and her policy and planning chief, Mr. Stephen Krasner, are following the same method of thinking and they want to roll back the Westphalian Order. They seek to replace the inherent legitimacy of states with their own idea of legitimacy. In other words, a state can be democratic, but the Americans would consider it illegitimate, and vice versa.
Now, how does this translate in the nuclear issue? We have a right to have nuclear technology, but they say that Iran does not have legitimacy and competence to have nuclear technology. Who could judge this competence? In the past, every legitimate state had its specific rights, but now they say only the states that we consider legitimate have these rights.

Q. How are they [Western powers”> going to end this nuclear issue, regardless of who is president?
A. The West, both Europe and the U.S., think that if Iran masters nuclear technology, it would enter a new realm of technological prowess and it would be a great leap and the beginning of a new technological move. So they want to restrict us from the beginning. They want two classes of nations: nations that have nuclear technology and can be advanced, and nations that must be restricted to production of tomato juice and air conditioners. Why? It’s not just restricted to nuclear projects. If we make a breakthrough in biotechnology and nanotechnology, we will be facing similar problems. The West will say access to modern technology must be limited to nuclear powers. We must know that this issue is at the key to our progress.
Our people understand things and very quickly see through the objectives [the West”> is following. You saw that when the issue of Ahmadinejad’s presence in the Nest of Spies [the U.S. embassy”> or his involvement in the assassination of Ghassemlou were raised, even those in the country who are opposed to his political orientations denied these issues and someone like Mr. Hajjarian, who is among the reformists, denied it and said they were there and he wasn’t. So they see very quickly what [the West”> is up to. The [West”> will gain nothing from this. May be they say we are preparing the public opinion in the world to step up our pressures on [Iran”>. But they must know this is a national demand and Mr. Ahmadinejad, as someone who has the vote of the people, cannot resist the national demand and is obliged to pursue this demand.
If the West tries to block this demand through propaganda, the result will be that the Europeans will be left out of the game entirely. They were almost absent from the Middle East before and the nuclear talks with Iran gave them an arena to take the lead on an extremely sensitive issue. Europe could have used this opportunity to strengthen its ties to the Middle East, because it’s a question of Middle East markets and the determining role of Iran in the political scene of the region, which is extremely important. Europe could sharply enhance its role in the region by having close ties with Iran. This is an opportunity for Europe that could disappear. Of course, it also has some benefits for Iran. If the Europeans think of this in terms of winning and losing, they will make the same mistake as the Americans have made. It won’t be in Europe’s interest to put itself in America’s league.

Q. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been very reticent so far on foreign policy, except in that press conference, when a reported asked him about the European Union’s suspension of the human rights dialogue, and he replied that the Europeans must come down from their ivory towers and change their vocabulary. Is it too soon to make conclusions about the future of Iran’s ties with the West?
A. The Europeans have not taken the same position [on the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections”>. Mr. Schroeder, for example, took a logical position and some looked at him with suspicion. Some, like [Italian Prime Minister Silvio”> Berlusconi behaved in an undiplomatic way. It’s not good to insult a man elected by a country.

Q. With regard to the diplomatic row that arose out of the visit by Iran’s Majlis Speaker to a small European country like Belgium, would it not better at present time to stop official visits to foreign countries and be more cautious until the new government settles down?
A. No, I don’t think so. Governments come and go, but visits and talks remain, because a country’s survival depends on its political and diplomatic ties. You can’t live in isolation.

Q. Do you think the nuclear negotiations team will change in the new administration?
A. I can’t comment, as this will be the task of the new president. But Iran has been pursuing a basic approach that says we must have our rights. The Europeans have said in the talks that the best guarantee that we could have to make sure you won’t develop nuclear weapons is for you not to have a nuclear programme at all. That is illogical and Iran rejected it.
My impression is that the new government must pursue the national demand for nuclear technology, but must make use of all diplomatic tools, as well. There are indications that compel the new president to resume nuclear technology in Iran and this won’t benefit the Europeans much. The Europeans must make use of this opportunity and recognize that the new president with a huge mandate has to pursue this national demand. If the Europeans confront us on this issue, they will disappear from the Middle East.

Q. If you take over Iran’s foreign policy, what changes will you make?
A. Principles cannot change, but several sectors of our foreign policy must change from a tactical point of view. One is the structure of our foreign service that must become more efficient. The second point is that we must be able to react more quickly to developments. Sometimes an incident happens without any reaction on our part, and this harms our interests like a pest. For instance, we should have shown a much more forceful and rapid reaction to the flurry of articles in the Western press that insulted our new president. The third point is that we must take the initiative in our diplomacy. On Iraq, for example, others want to change the situation in the region. In the Muslim world, and elsewhere too; in all these areas, I think it is imperative that we gain the initiative.

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