RAY SUAREZ: The U.N.'s nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, delivered its report just as the deadline was passing for Iran to stop enriching uranium.
The IAEA said "gaps remain in the agency's knowledge." Therefore, the report says, the IAEA is "unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran." The agency concluded by saying it "cannot make a judgment about, or reach a conclusion on, Iran's future compliance or intentions."
This afternoon at the White House, President Bush was asked if the diplomatic options were dwindling.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: No, I think the diplomatic options are just beginning. And as you might recall, about six or seven months ago, you were asking me questions about the United Nations Security Council vis-a-vis Iran, and now we're headed to the United Nations Security Council.
And I look forward to working with all interested parties, to make sure that there's a common voice that -- Listen, the first thing that has to happen diplomatically for anything to be effective is that we all agree on the goal. And we've agreed on the goal, and that is the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon.
And now that we've got the goal in mind, we're working on the tactics. And today's IAEA report should remind us all that the Iranian government's intransigence is not acceptable.
RAY SUAREZ: The Security Council is expected to take up the issue of Iran's nuclear program next month. And now we get the official Iranian view from that country's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif.
Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. Today was the deadline set by the IAEA for Iranian compliance shutting down its enrichment. Did you respond officially to that request or simply ignore it?
JAVAD ZARIF, Iranian Ambassador: Well, it's good to be with you, and good evening to you.
We said very clearly that Iran does not want to pursue a nuclear weapons program. It is not in our strategic interest.
At the same time, Iran believes -- and I believe the majority of the international community share this opinion -- that, in order for the international nonproliferation regime to be sustained, you need to respect the rights of member states.
We made it very clear that Iran does not respond well to pressure, that Iran would cooperate, if the cooperation takes place in an atmosphere conducive to reaching substantive conclusions.
I would like to point out that in September of 2005, before the series of pressures through the IAEA board of governors imposed by the United States started, the IAEA was reporting good progress being made in ascertaining the extent and context of Iran's nuclear program.
We know that, through our cooperation, the IAEA has been able to verify a good number of outstanding issues. And Iran has been prepared to allow the IAEA to reach a definitive conclusion on our program.
Unfortunately, for some arbitrary red lines, as well as arbitrary deadlines, have been the order of the day, not to seek solutions, but in fact to push towards a crisis. And if a crisis is what they want and what they seek to achieve, unfortunately, that would be the case.
But we believe a crisis is not necessary, because we share the goal of the international community that no country should have nuclear weapons, and Iran certainly is a country that is committed to nonproliferation and does not want to seek or produce nuclear weapons.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, you quote a 2005 report that cites good progress in the IAEA-Iran relationship. But today's report from the agency says that your country has curtailed its cooperation, made it very difficult for the agency to monitor your activities. And instead of shutting down enrichment, as they requested, you've accelerated it. Is that true?
JAVAD ZARIF: Well, in fact, we've said that cooperation and confrontation cannot go together. Iran has provided a choice: If the United States and the Western countries cooperating with the United States are looking for confrontation, then they should not expect Iran to go out of its legal obligations to be cooperative in ways that it's not obliged to.
However, we have said, if the path of cooperation and reaching a resolution is chosen, then Iran is prepared to go out of its way, as it has done in the past.
As you know, Iran has opened its doors to the IAEA, has allowed about 2,000 days of inspections in Iran in the past three years, allowed many visits even to military sites, which Iran was not obliged to do, in order to allay any concerns that our military sites had nothing to do with any nuclear program.
We did all of that in order to show our willingness to adopt the path of cooperation. But, unfortunately, since the Security Council adopted the presidential statement, it was very clear -- and the report of the director-general makes it again clear -- that Iran is prepared to cooperate, provided that the United States does not choose the path of confrontation.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you've just described what you view as your country's extensive cooperation with the international community. What has the IAEA asked for that Iran has decided it is unwilling to give?
JAVAD ZARIF: Well, basically, we are prepared to provide information to the IAEA to the extent that information is available. As you know, proof of a negative fact is impossible, but Iran is prepared.
We have nothing to hide. Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, and we are prepared to cooperate with the IAEA; we have been prepared to cooperate with the IAEA in order to clarify that.
If you look at the report of the director-general that was issued today, he once again indicates that there was no indication of any military activity in Iran, and he also indicates that Iran has officially informed him that it is ready to help him ascertain the outstanding issues and resolve the outstanding issues, provided that this issue is dealt with in the technical framework within which it should have been dealt with from the very beginning.
RAY SUAREZ: Recently, Iran confirmed that it refined a large amount of uranium to power-plant grade. Your president, Ahmadinejad, announced that he'd like to continue research with even more powerful and sophisticated centrifuges.
Would you accept the world's verdict that if you're not refining for weapons-grade material you sure look like you are, that you're doing what countries who are preparing to get weapons-grade uranium do?
JAVAD ZARIF: First of all, there is no world conclusion or any indictment by the international community that Iran is pursuing anything other than a peaceful nuclear program. The United States wants to repeat that often, and in numerous circumstances, in order to create an impression as if this was the case.
Iran's program is exclusively peaceful. We have said that we will put a cap on the level of enrichment, as you said, to the reactor-grade enrichment, and that is quite different from what is required for illicit purposes of producing weapons, and that Iran has said very clearly that we're not interested in.
In fact, Iran has provided, made proposals, to put into motion and put in place a good number of political, legal, technical and monitoring mechanisms in order to verify that our program would remain exclusively peaceful, that the enrichment, which is our inalienable right, will not exceed the level that would be required for our reactors.
And we have been prepared to go out of our way in order to provide these assurances. Unfortunately, the arbitrary red lines that have been drawn, which have no base in any international treaty or any international regime -- and the IAEA is record accepting that -- have precluded the possibility of moving forward with these very substantive and, in fact, conducive proposals that have been presented by Iran, as well as many other countries and nongovernmental organizations.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier today at the White House, President Bush said that he, his government, and the world don't want Iran to have even the knowledge of how to make a nuclear weapon. If your program continues at its current pace, will you end up with that knowledge?
JAVAD ZARIF: Well, I do not know what President Bush is talking about. Iran has the knowledge to enrich uranium; we do not want the knowledge to build nuclear weapons; Iran is opposed to nuclear weapons, and we have made that extremely clear.
On the other hand, the president is not in a position to set criteria or guidelines for other countries. There are a body of international rules and norms. I know that the United States has no affinity to international law, but there is a body of international law which defines what constitutes legal activity in the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty and what constitutes illegal activity. And Iran has been within its legal bounds.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a legitimate concern on the part of the United Nations that a member state that has a head of government who has called for the wiping off the face of the Earth of another member state, that it should be worried about their having a nuclear program?
JAVAD ZARIF: Well, let's separate the two issues. First of all, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the Iranian nuclear program is a development program, is an energy program. It has nothing to do with security; it is a legal program.
If you want to deal with the other issue, we have never threatened to use force against any other country. Our history, in the past 250 years, we have not attacked any other country.
We have been the subject of invasion; we have been the subject of aggression; we have been the subject of use of chemical weapons. But we have defended ourselves, but we never resorted to use of chemical weapons, even in retaliation. So our record is very clear.
On the other hand, unfortunately, Israel has a record of aggression against its neighbors, has a known nuclear stockpile, is not a member of any international instrument.
The question that needs to be asked is whether Israel and the United States are prepared to make the same statement that Iran has repeatedly made, and that is: We have not and will not attack or threaten to attack another country.
I wonder whether this statement can be made either by President Bush or any Israeli official.
RAY SUAREZ: Can you imagine a circumstance where you could make that kind of representation to the American government itself? Is it time for the United States to meet directly with Iran over the nuclear debate?
JAVAD ZARIF: Well, the mechanics are not important. It is the political will of the United States whether it seeks a resolution, whether it seeks to deal with realities based on mutual respect, and to try to resolve outstanding issues and grievances between the two countries.
If the United States reaches that understanding and is prepared to do that, then Iran will be a willing partner.
RAY SUAREZ: Because recently there was supposed to be meetings over the future of Iraq, and those didn't take place. Would there be more to talk about, a more fruitful possibility in discussions about nuclear policy?
JAVAD ZARIF: Well, Iran responded positively to a request that was made initially by the United States and then repeated by Iraqi officials that Iran should participate in bilateral dialogue with the United States on how to help the Iraqi situation, on how to help the Iraqi people and government in stabilizing the country, which is, I assume, in the interest of the United States, and certainly in the interest of Iran, which is a country in the region did not come thousands of miles away from its shores in order to invade another country.
But, unfortunately, since Iran showed its readiness to engage in that dialogue, the attitude shown by the United States has been less than serious and, in fact, has made it very difficult for those talks to take off the ground.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Javad Zarif, Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.
JAVAD ZARIF: It was good to be with you.