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Tensions Grow Over Iran’s Nuclear Goals

September 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: The Islamic nation of 69 million people is one of 188 countries that has signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, or NPT. It prohibits the development of nuclear weapons, but does allow a country to pursue nuclear power peacefully.

But questions surround Iran’s uranium enrichment program, a key activity on the path to making nuclear warheads. The U.S. has long maintained Iran is hiding its plans, and wants the matter referred to the U.N. Security Council.

After a series of meetings in Vienna earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, demanded Iran stop all uranium enrichment activity.

They specified the manufacture of centrifuges and the preparation of uranium for enrichment. Iranian officials were defiant over the ruling. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator rejected the resolution.

HASAN ROWHANI, National Security Council, Iran (Translated): In Iran’s opinion, the demand of the IAEA is illegal and cannot bring new obligations for Iran. It means that the IAEA board of governors has no right to oblige a country to suspend its activities.

RAY SUAREZ: At the U.N. last week, Secretary of State Powell urged Iran to comply.

COLIN POWELL: It would be wise now for Iran to get with the IAEA, to get with the European foreign ministers again, and try to clear up these issues.

We’re not looking for a way to take it to the Security Council, we’re looking for a way to make sure that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapons program. That’s in the interest of the region and the interest of the world for us to do that, and we will continue to pursue that approach.

RAY SUAREZ: Iran’s regional neighbor, Israel, called for quick action by the Security Council. And Israel admitted last week it’s purchased 500 so-called “bunker buster” bombs from the U.S., bombs which could be used to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The IAEA board of governors meets again in November, when it will look at a full report on Iran’s compliance to their demands. The issue may at that point be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

RAY SUAREZ: And joining me is Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. Mr. Minister, welcome.

KAMAL KHARRAZI: Thank you. My pleasure.

RAY SUAREZ: Is Iran currently enriching uranium?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: As a matter of fact it has been suspended to build more confidence between Iran and IAEA international community. It is a voluntary action and certainly a voluntary action cannot become obligatory.

But we are still committed to the statement of Tehran signed between Iran and European countries provided that this would be based on the voluntary action.

RAY SUAREZ: Now you say your program is suspended and there’s no enrichment underway now. Are you willing to let international inspectors into your facilities to verify that fact?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: As a matter of fact, the international inspectors are frequently visiting all of our sites in different places.

And there has been a lot of inspections so far, and they have free visas to come over and inspect everywhere they wish.

RAY SUAREZ: So why do you think the IAEA has been so unsatisfied by Iran’s recent record of compliance? They’ve come back and said that they feel that you haven’t shown them everything.

KAMAL KHARRAZI: No. Contrary to that, IAEA has been very satisfied with the level of cooperation of Iran especially in recent months. And by that cooperation, many outstanding issues have been verified and IAEA has declared that the source of contamination found in Iran has been outside.

And many other issues have been clarified. It’s just minor issues which has remained, and that takes time for IAEA to have its final conclusion.

RAY SUAREZ: Why did your country head down this road, sir? If you wanted to build an electric power plant, there’s so much uranium in the world that you would have been supplied with it without having to refine your own.

KAMAL KHARRAZI: Oh, we wanted to be independent. As a matter of fact, we have followed model of self-reliance and self-sufficiency on different aspects of economic life.

Currently Iran is almost self-sufficient in a culture, industries — and power plants is another area that we have been trying to become self-sufficient not only for nuclear power plants but also for gas power plants.

Currently we manufacture gas turbines. We manufacture generators. Also, we have been deciding to have fuel manufactured in Iran to become independent. Nothing is wrong to have fuel manufactured in Iran as long as it is under inspection regime and supervision of IAEA because we have mine, we have technology.

We are committed to NPT. We are signatory to safeguard. We are signatory to additional protocol; everything is under inspection of IAEA people. Nothing is wrong with that to have this technology developed to be able to produce fuel needed for our power plants.

And we have in mind to have 7,000 megawatts of electricity by nuclear power plants in the next 20 years so that needs a lot of fuel and nothing is wrong to be independent in producing fuel needed for those power plants in Iran.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you say you’re in full compliance and you say you’ve been cooperating with international inspectors.

Then what’s the source of the problem? Why is the IAEA even going ahead with its meetings?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: The problem is political motivation of the United States to seize this opportunity to put pressure on Iran. As a matter of fact, we have very close cooperation with IAEA, and as long as it is the matter of professionalism of IAEA, nothing is wrong with Iran.

But to make it political, politicized and to create a political environment to fish in the troubled waters is something that the United States is looking for. Right now Colin Powell was on the TV, as you was showing the background, and he said what the United States wants is to make sure that Iran is not going to produce nuclear weapon.

I agree with him that Iran is not going to produce nuclear weapon. And what remains is to make it guaranteed that Iran is not going to divert toward production of nuclear weapons. We are ready for that. That can be done in the framework of IAEA certainly.

RAY SUAREZ: Does the fact that Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States make that kind of satisfaction more difficult to achieve?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: The United States has seized all opportunities… every opportunity to put pressure on Iran — while Iran can play a very important role especially in that volatile region — we have been playing a very important role in Afghanistan; we are playing a very important role in Iraq.

I believe the approach toward Iran has to be changed. If they take a positive outlook toward Iran, certainly Iran can be very constructive, very positive, and can resolve many issues in that part of the world.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, there remains suspicion. You talked about diversion and making sure there was no diversion. There remains suspicion as I’m sure you’ve heard on the part of some countries that Iran does want to have the opportunity, have the technology to produce nuclear weapons if it chooses.

Can your government categorically say that that is not an interest of Iran?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: Certainly it is not an interest of Iran. It’s not part of our defense doctrine. We are against production of nuclear weapons legally and religiously even.

And we have been promoting the idea of establishment of free zone in Middle East from nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction. That is something that we have been pushing for.

And therefore what remains is any mechanism that would guarantee for others that Iran is not going to divert toward nuclear weapon. We are already for that.

RAY SUAREZ: You’re in a kind of dangerous neighborhood. You have Iran on one side, Afghanistan on the other side, and nuclear Pakistan on a third border. Does Iran feel under threat?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: Exactly; we think that having more nuclear states is not going to help. What remains is to develop nuclear free zones, to get rid of nuclear weapons.

In video conferences of NPT as well we have been promoting the idea of elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world. And we have been pushing for that on behalf of developing states. Therefore, having more nuclear states is not going to be the solution. Removal of all nuclear weapons is the solution. And we are for that.

RAY SUAREZ: Is Iran willing to risk dropping out of the non-proliferation treaty if the IAEA asks for things it feels that it can’t deliver on, can’t show them?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: No, we are a member to NPT and we have worked a lot to strengthen NPT, and we are committed to it, as well as the safeguard, as well as additional protocol.

Of course, it all depends that how it would be dealt with Iran. Iran is a capable country in terms of enrichment and certainly the best way to deal with Iran is dialogue, not to pressure on Iran, not to pressurize Iran.

RAY SUAREZ: So you feel that this can be wrapped up before the November meeting, build down the tensions?

KAMAL KHARRAZI: I hope. If international community is going to do its responsibility to work with Iran, certainly we are ready to work with them. And we are for solution of this problem.

But the approach has to be dialogue and finding mechanisms that would guarantee for Iran to enjoy its right for using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and at the same time to ensure others that Iran is not going to divert toward nuclear weapons.

RAY SUAREZ: Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, thanks for joining us, sir.

KAMAL KHARRAZI: Thank you.