Hajibabaei is one of the senior hard-liners in Iran's parliament. His interview here conveys the nature of what stands between the U.S. and Iran. Hajibabaei's responses to producer Greg Barker's questions illuminate much of Iran's decades-long rage, distrust, misunderstanding, paranoia and grievance against the United States. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted through an interpreter on July 31, 2007.
… Could you describe what Iran's strategic aims are in the region with regard to Iraq, the Gulf and Afghanistan?
We're very pleased that you have entered this discussion as a hopefully independent journalist to learn of some the realities about the Islamic Republic of Iran and about our foreign policy.
The truth of the matter is that in our opinion, over the past 28 years the various U.S. administrations have not allowed the Iranian and American nations to forge a friendship. They have always tried to keep the Islamic Republic of Iran [under a cloud] of accusations and to interpret our foreign policy for the American people in such different and unclear ways. For this reason, when you say that there is misunderstanding among Americans about the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I consider it the fault of anti-Iranian propaganda of U.S. officials.
We're an independent country. We'd like to exist among all the countries in the world. We'd like to have peace in the world. We'd like for no country to invade another one. We'd like our nation to be part of the advances in the world. We'd like to take part in scientific progress. Our heritage tells us so: Over at least the past 100 years, you will not find a single instance in which the Islamic Republic of Iran threatened or invaded a neighboring or any other country. So anything attributed to our foreign policy other than that is incorrect.
How do you feel when you hear your brothers in Saudi Arabia talking about the need to contain Iran? We're hearing reports of [a] very large arms sale that America is considering, apparently with Israel's consent, to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries with the express purpose, they say, to contain Iran. What are your thoughts on that?
If our brothers in Arabian countries feel threatened by the Islamic Republic of Iran, I put that in the category of prevalent misunderstandings about Iran among Americans. This, too, is a fabrication spread by the United States. Even if we don't view this as a U.S. fabrication, but a reality, is that the burning issue, or rather the massacre of the Iraqi people by the United States, or Abu Ghraib prison, or the mass killings of Afghans?
Therefore we think that the United States is prepared to kill, murder, sow conflict, set up 9/11, create the Taliban and to stir thousands of other plots in the region to further its own economic and dangerous interests.
These actions have provoked the hatred of many people in the world toward such truly kind people as Americans. I don't know how they came to have such a government, one that instead of being the object of love is so widely despised.
Do you think the Iraqi people love us, or do you think they are our enemies? Let me give you an example. When the Iraqi soccer team won the Asian Cup, Iranians were as happy as if their own team had come in first place. The Iraqi and Iranian people are one; they are inseparable. So why did they fight each other for eight years? After about 1 million killed, they are still one. This love was indestructible. Who started this war? The United States. So not only do we have no enmity for the people of the region, we're their friends. If the United States leaves the region, all the people of the region are brothers and friends.
But it's the United States that arms Israel, that creates conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, between Iran and Iraq, Iran and Egypt, for its own interests. And those interests are control over energy resources and to have power. These acts of great injustice and ruthlessness will be marked in history.
... What was your personal reaction was when Sept. 11 happened, and what did you think of the previous administration in Iran's policy of cooperation with America with regard to Afghanistan in 2001?
I was in Switzerland at the time of the 9/11 attacks. ... I witnessed from the beginning the massive propaganda campaign launched by the West, especially the United States. After a short time in which Mr. Bush was in hiding, he appeared on television and launched his attack on Muslims; from the very beginning he put Muslims under attack.
Who did they mean by "Muslims"? If it was the Taliban, well, the Taliban was created in Afghanistan by the United States. It was a creation of Mr. Bush and others of his ilk. We don't recognize them [the Taliban] either. We're even suspicious of their claim of being Muslim. If we believe that they were the culprits -- of course we consider Israel to have had a hand in this. Why? Because there were no Israelis at the Twin Towers when they were attacked. Did Israel know something? If it knew something, where did it obtain that information? This is one point.
Then they extended their line of attack to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In those few days I was in Europe, I saw the extent to which the United States and some of its allies shaped public opinion against Islam. They then realized that they couldn't battle it out with Muslims. From the beginning, the Islamic Republic also condemned this attack, this act of terrorism -- it was among the first countries to do so. Then the Americans got to a point where they realized they couldn't fight Muslims. Today the United States wants to create conflict between Muslim countries. It recently put into place military agreements with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Don't you think when the United States says, as you mentioned in your question, that our Muslim brothers aren't at ease with the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that it's propaganda so that the United States can sell its arms to Muslim countries and make money? That's one point.
The second point: Who should people fear? Over at least the past 100 years, as history shows, we have not attacked or inflicted harm on a single country, but over the past 100 years the United States has leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs. Should the people of the world fear the United States or Iran? I know for certain that when I pose these questions, even if you don't express it, I know in your heart that you believe the United States to be the aggressor. If the United States government did not exist, perhaps more than 70 percent of the world's problems would be solved, in our opinion. It's these preparations that pave the way for invasion, war and blood-spilling in the world. You can see that in Iraq not a single day goes by in which many people don't get killed. Who is responsible for these deaths? As a military force occupying Iraq, doesn't the U.S. bear the responsibility? If it can maintain security, it should do so. If it can't, it should leave so others, its own people, can. Doesn't the United States bear some responsibility for this?
So our policy is a defensive one: [We defend ourselves] against accusations and the negative environment created by the United States against the Islamic Republic. If this atmosphere were not created, there would be no need for us to defend ourselves either. To defend ourselves, we have no choice but to inform others in the world about American plots, spite-mongering and American enmity. Americans may think we are their enemies. If Americans and Iranians lived side by side in one place for a thousand years, I don't think there would be any conflicts between them. For instance, most Iranian immigrants head to the United States. Americans are the most agreeable people [in the world] to Iranians. We get on with them, and they get on with us. Enmity and spite were put there by those politicians in power in the United States.
Given Iran's long war after Saddam's attack, were you pleased that the U.S. attacked Saddam? Could the U.S. have done that invasion somehow differently, perhaps consulting with the neighbors, including Iran, more effectively?
I forgot to answer a part of the last question. It was about the previous government's cooperation in Afghanistan. What did the present government do? Has it cooperated in these areas? Our general policy is to try to act in the interests of the people of the region. The actions of the previous government and those of the present are in one direction. Our previous government acted well. The "Dialogue Among Civilizations" paved the way for us to express our wishes for peace. What was the U.S. response? Did they do anything but disagree with him? So the United States is only after its own interests in these cooperations. That's one point.
The second point is with respect to your last question about Iraq. An eight-year war was imposed on us. I took part in that war. At least four members of my family were martyred. My father, my brother and my mother were injured. That's three war-disabled and four martyrs. Two of my brothers were martyred, and two of our brothers-in-law were martyred -- my sister's husband was martyred.
But today I don't have the least bit of resentment for Iraqis, because I love them. And nothing made me happier than to see the Iraqi [soccer] team come in first. I watched all the games, and I was incredibly happy. We don't consider the Iraqi people at fault. Saddam was an agent for the U.S. The U.S. removed Saddam, but what did it give them instead? That's important. Saddam was bloodthirsty, but the U.S. forces in Iraq are more bloodthirsty. Saddam killed Iraqis one by one in prisons, but the U.S. military forces in Iraq kill en masse.
If the U.S. had removed Saddam and put the people in power of their government, we should have applauded the Americans. We would have thanked them and been grateful. But the United States didn't come to Iraq for the sake of the Iraqi people. They came for their oil. They came because Iraq is tucked in the Muslim belt of nations. They came to establish a presence in the region. So they didn't come for the Iraqi people.
Despite all this, after all this cruelty, even though we didn't want to negotiate with the U.S. government, we did so for the Iraqi people. We sat at the table with them. It's possible we'll negotiate with the United States for Iraq's security and the problem will be solved. The main reason for Iraq's insecurity is the presence of U.S. forces and because people are not given power over their government. That's two [problems]. Is the U.S. ready to solve these two? We're ready. The Americans are unable to take control in Iraq, and they say it's because the Iranians are interfering. How can we interfere when Iraq is in your hands? You have 200,000 troops there, and the British are helping you, too.
This whole abominable mess was brought on by Mr. Bush's administration. He wants to silence the American people. Why have thousands of Americans been killed in Iraq? Why should young Americans be killed in Iraq? Does the U.S. have some purpose in Iraq? Interests? What are those interests? Isn't that for the sustenance of the Iraqi people? Isn't that something that belongs to the Iraqi people? Doesn't that earth belong to the Iraqi people? These issues can be discussed and debated a thousand times.
I also want to tell you something in this regard -- it may be very strange to you. Even though I know that Saddam Hussein attacked us under orders from the United States and martyred hundreds and thousands of our people, and uprooted my family, I have absolutely no hatred for the American people. I love the American people. But I consider the American government to be criminal. They commit these crimes in the name of the American people. But I do have this expectation of American people: Why don't you stop such a government? Why do you vote for this president? Why do you allow your intellect to be fed by false news?
… How did the current president, President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, set out to change or correct Iran's policy with regard to America?
I don't think our policy toward the U.S. has changed. We try different methods with the United States. Our previous government invoked "Dialogue of Civilizations," created every opportunity in the world to see if the United States, when it said "these are the reasons we are your enemy," whether it would continue to be our enemy [when those factors did not get in the way].
If our previous [Khatami] government behaved well, what did the United States do in response? Did it lift economic sanctions against us? Did it not plot against us? Did it not put great amounts of pressure on our nuclear program? Did the U.S. offer us any advantages? The U.S. did not alter its behavior toward our previous government one bit. So when we have gone down that path, and it made no difference to the U.S. and other countries, then the new government reverted to previous methods, back to the period before the former government was in place, and that's because we seem to get more results that way.
During our previous administration, the U.S. banned us from even reading a book about nuclear energy, from even educating ourselves on the subject. In the United States, can you keep someone from receiving an education? In the Middle Ages that may have been the case: Some were allowed to pursue knowledge, and others were not. The "new Middle Age" in the United States operates the same way: Some countries may take advantage of a scientific advance; other countries may not.
Israel can have tens of nuclear warheads, but we cannot have a peaceful nuclear energy program. So we took a step in that direction, and we went forward in a powerful way, and we were successful. Two years ago the U.S. said we weren't even allowed 20 centrifuges, but now we have thousands of centrifuges and we're going forward strongly; we've reached the level of industrial enrichment. But our nuclear program will remain forever peaceful. Why does the U.S. treat us in such a way that our government is forced to respond the way it does?
Our government wrote a letter to your government, to your president. Why didn't he respond? If there is any real interest in dialogue, they should have responded, responded logically. I don't want to say that I agree with everything Dr. Ahmadinejad says, with every word he utters, but his politics have been successful against the bullying and power plays of the United States. Mr. Bush pays attention only to the language of force. You have to address him forcefully. A person has to obtain his rights by force from Mr. Bush. You have to force Mr. Bush to withdraw so that the people can defend their natural rights in their own territory. So even though different states have various policies, they're still all moving in the same direction. Our military policy has been decided. No government can change it. But it can change its tactics; it can change its methods. There are no strategic differences between the previous and present governments [of Iran], but they are different in the style in which they act, speak and express themselves. And that has got to do with timing, which is necessary.
Perhaps one of the reasons Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected has something to do with this manner of conduct. People had a familiarity with Mr. Ahmadinejad before choosing him. Perhaps it was the previous government's gentle ways, which was well and proper in its time, and the fact that the U.S. and the world failed to respond properly to this gentleness, that provoked the people [here] to want to engage [the world] in a more forceful manner, and to make up for the past.
… Let me ask you specifically about the [Mujahideen-e Khalq] and the presence of that organization still inside Iraq. What's your sense of [MEK's] presence there and what should the U.S. do about it?
It's been a number of years now that it has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, but the Americans continue to support them. How do you explain that to the world? The U.S. has to answer to that.
Those forces were at the height of their power at the end of the war in 1367 , when they attacked Iran in an operation we call [Mersad]. Of the 7,000 in their group, 5,000 of them were killed in that operation. So their presence in Iraq poses no fear whatsoever in us in this country, but even the Iraqi government doesn't want them there. It's not [for] fear of this group that we raise these issues. We want to say that [the United States'] claims to human rights, fight against terrorism, is not genuine. … They falsely accuse us of supporting terrorism, and they consider the most serious punishments against us for "supporting terrorists." Terrorists in fact are agents of the U.S. Why don't they confront them? Why do they use them? Why do they let a terrorist group exist in a country where their forces are in power?
Today in Iraq, this group you mentioned are one of the biggest terrorist groups in the world. They are being supported by the United States. The Taliban are being indirectly supported by the United States. The Baathists are being supported by the United States. These explosions and murders are being carried out by these terrorists. Doesn't the United States have the power to stop this? Does it support them? Is it paving the way for them itself? These questions and mysteries exist for us. They're not clear yet.
With regard to Iraq, the U.S. has claimed that Iran is a cause for a lot of the turmoil there, supplying weapons. What are Iran's objectives in Iraq, and were you personally surprised at the U.S. military's inability to control the chaos in Iraq?
Our objective in Iraq is to provide security. … We believe insecurity in Iraq means insecurity for the region. That's one point. The second point is that the Iraqi people are Muslim. We must strive, through diplomatic means and the international community, to prepare conditions for a government of the people there. We believe that the Iraqi people should have control of their government. No one should act as the guardian of the Iraqi people there. We'd like to see a solid Iraq. As the Iraqis demonstrated in their elections, they're intelligent and wise people, and there's no need for anyone to come into Iraq and interfere. The Iraqis, in their parliamentary elections and then government elections, demonstrated they possess a high political awareness.
As to why the U.S. can't control Iraq, you have to ask the Americans themselves. In my opinion, the Americans are swimming against the stream. The Iraqi people elect Iraq's parliament; the United States opposes it. The people's parliament elects the government; the United States opposes it. The people would like to have a strong, able government; the United States tries to weaken Iraq's government, and if possible to have it sidelined and collapse. People realize this. Other groups like the Taliban and the mujahideen, as you mentioned, are terrorist groups connected to the U.S., either directly or as middlemen, or the U.S. provides for their existence. What are all these explosions for? In Samara … the security there was in the hands of the U.S. Are the Americans powerless, or do they want these conflicts to exist? …
Most importantly, the reason for America's failure is that it has no compassion for the Iraqi people. At Abu Ghraib prison people got to see what crimes it committed. In Iraq, the Americans don't have a close relationship with the Iraqis; they don't look at Iraqis as friends. The brutalities and oppression they're committing there have severely angered the Iraqis. This is one of the big reasons. And the last reason is this: Iraqis think: Why did the U.S. attack Iraq? If it was to remove Saddam, why did they stay here? Why doesn't it allow the Iraqi government to operate? And my other thought is this: A superpower will remain a superpower until it keeps away from the streets and alleyways of another country. When it steps into the streets and alleyways of another country, it's no longer a superpower. Because the U.S. is not a superpower in Iraq -- the U.S. is weak; the U.S. doesn't have the power to handle its people.
Do you believe that the U.S. should pull its troops now, or would that lead to more chaos? On a practical level, what would you like the U.S. to do in Iraq now?
I personally don't believe they should quickly leave Iraq in two days. ... The discussion is not over whether the U.S. should quickly withdraw its military forces. The matter under discussion is that if the U.S. forces are there to maintain security, they should go into their garrison until circumstances are ready for them to withdraw, and for them to hand over power little by little. Our discussion is more about why they don't let the government run its affairs. Why do they weaken the government?
If the Americans think their forces are good and they should stay, well then stay. We have nothing against that. But the issue is that they are unable to stay. How badly despised by the world do you think Americans are because of Mr. Bush's actions? So much hatred and disgust has been planted in the hearts of Muslims and others over this. What budget has the United States expended -- $400 billion? -- to sow this hatred? To create this revulsion? How many billions does it want to budget to make this hatred go away? Will history forget? That's all we have to stay. Neither Iran nor any other country has a right to meddle in Iraq's domestic affairs. Whatever people want is what should take place. A government of the people, for the people -- that same democracy the U.S. is so proud of. …
The United States says things for the sake of others, not for itself. The United States violates human rights, supports terrorists, recognizes democracy for itself, but not for the rest of the world. It tells Iran, which is the most democratic country in the region, that it is not a democracy. Our neighbor, which is a kingdom, and which even lacks a parliament -- it defends it. If the U.S. supports democracy, why is it friendly with that country? These U.S. slogans have been found out; they have no place anywhere anymore. And we really think that it's in the interests of the American people for Mr. Bush to withdraw his military forces from Iraq as soon as possible and to allow the Iraqi people some room to breathe and to shape their own government.
… What's your perception here of what the Bush administration intentions are, and are you concerned that Iran may be subject to a military attack before this administration leaves office?
We believe, first of all, that the Islamic Republic of Iran benefits from a powerful deterring position. That's one point. The second point is that the United States doesn't have an international readiness, or a military one. And as I explained earlier, a superpower can be a superpower in the sky, but not on the ground -- especially when these grounds are the streets and alleyways of the people. I think we've already taken an eight-year exam. At that time we were empty-handed and lacked even a united military; we didn't even have weapons. The Iran of today is not the Iran of 20 or 25 years ago. The United States is not the United States of the past, either. Of course Mr. Bush is capable of anything imaginable -- of even throwing himself in a ditch, as he's demonstrated.
And the next point: In Iran we have a saying, "Wishful thinking is not a folly to the youth." I mean that young people always have very, very high expectations, because they don't have a lot of wisdom. But as they get older, their dreams -- and expectations -- are not so out of reach; their vision is forward-looking, but their dreams are small, attainable, and practical. And this is another point.
We don't even think about a discussion of military invasion. And in the United States, there are a few intelligent people working alongside Mr. Bush. If he's not [intelligent], those around him are -- his strategists, those who feed him thoughts and ideas. Iran is a regional power, and the United States wants to have a presence in the region in the future.
About 70 percent of the world's energy is from the Persian Gulf. Iran, from a geographical perspective -- meaning geopolitically, politically, ideologically, and in terms of resources -- is a regional power. We can be the strongest in the Persian Gulf. The United States doesn't like this. It wants to see Iran weakened. That's why it won't accept negotiations with us. It doesn't want to concede that we are powerful. It's trying through various means to keep us from our advances, or to get us to take orders from them. If we wanted that, we would have never had a revolution, and we would have not had hundreds of thousands of martyrs.
At the end of my talk, I'll also gift you this verse from a poem. It's very meaningful; it goes like this: "You did a hundred terrible things, and you saw the results. What was so wrong with kindness that you didn't attempt it even once." That's what we're saying.
The United States has been an enemy to us for 28 years -- perhaps it thought this a wise approach; perhaps it had its reasoning -- but the more they fought us, the more powerful we became. The United States should try it once: Be our friend for one year. By friendship I don't mean for them to give us anything; I mean don't plot against us, don't be our enemy. Let's see the result. If the result was negative, it can revert to its initial position. Will the Americans ask this of him? We hope that, even once, the American people will ask Mr. Bush -- or at least the standouts among them -- will ask him, if they are interested in changing the way America looks to the rest of the world, so that the good American people don't have to pay the heavy price.