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Hossein Shariatmadari

Shariatmadari

Shariatmadari is editor-in-chief of Kayhan, Iran's major state-run newspaper. Appointed to the position by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, Shariatmadari is thought to speak for him in interviews with Western journalists. Here, he discusses his views on the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the fax that arrived in Washington in 2003 laying out discussion points for talks between the United States and Iran. He also explains the Supreme Leader's views on America and why he doesn't believe the United States wants to negotiate with Iran. Shariatmadari also warns of the consequences should America and its allies take military action against Iran. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted through an interpreter on Aug. 1, 2007.

Iran set an example with its Islamic revolution.This model of resistance has spread and been adopted across the Islamic world and today enjoys many supporters.

 

Explain for our viewers your position where it says "the Supreme Leader's representative." What does that mean, and what is the relationship between your job and this newspaper and the Supreme Leader?

Kayhan is an institute whose holdings do not belong to the government administration. Its holdings belong to the public. Such institutes are placed under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, and so the Supreme Leader usually appoints his representative to such foundations. Among newspapers, Kayhan and Ettelaat are the two institutes with such representatives. We don't receive any funds from the government. We rely on our own resources. And the Supreme Leader generally does not interfere in our journalism. ...

How would you describe your newspaper's position and opinions? What's your objective? What are you trying to achieve?

I think the response to this question is clearly visible in the way our newspaper operates. We uphold the worldwide Islamic movement. We believe the world order should change. It was previously dominated by two poles, and then it turned to a one-superpower system, at the will of the United States, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Countries must have their independence, and our emphasis is the Islamic version of world order. So we defend the Islamic Revolution in our country, and we view events from that perspective.

Within the domestic realm, we combat against ethical and especially economic corruption. We confront these issues strongly. Our emphasis is maintaining the country's independence and defending it against those people and those states that seek to deprive it of that independence. We attach a great deal of importance to having a government in the country that is based on the will of the people, and one that functions, of course, within the Islamic rubric. As an example, during the 33-day [2006] war between Hezbollah and Israel, our front-page headlines were devoted to Hezbollah. In the area of economic corruption, we conducted widespread investigations. ...

We are very sensitive to international issues. Among national publications and regional media, Kayhan is reputed for its accurate predictions and analysis of both domestic and regional issues. A few years ago the Financial Times named the world's most influential columnists, and from Iran it picked me; it chose Kayhan.

In this regard, on the nuclear issue, we predicted long ago that the situation will reach the point that it has. ... We predicted Hezbollah's victory, which turned out to be correct. We predicted the Hamas victory. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, we predicted that there would be a clash between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and that Hamas would gain victory. It happened that way. We predicted that the principalists would come to power in the government, and cases like this.

You mentioned Hamas and Hezbollah, the principalists here. Do you see that these movements are all somehow linked together or related in some broader Islamic movement?

I believe that ultimately they are rings of the same chain and really close to one another in essence. ...

To what end?

See, Islamic movements in the region are getting closer to one another; the various dots are beginning to form one line. After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Palestinian movement, instead of following their cause through the corridors of the United Nations, resorted to an intifada instead. They were inspired by the Islamic Revolution. The Islamic Revolution was an example for Hezbollah in Lebanon to follow, and thanks to our model, Hezbollah has been transformed into a major force across the region. ...

You can see the same thing in Iraq. Mr. Bush wanted to put in place a pro-American government, but the government in power now and voted by the people of Iraq is an Islamist one. Today we see several widespread movements in Saudi Arabia; the Saudis are trying to cover them up. The same kind of movement, in another form, is taking place in Jordan and Egypt. Because they all have the same goal and the same foundation, they are bound to be close to one another.

This is taking place right now. When something happens in the Islamic world, in countries with compromising and pro-Western governments, those with an Islamic cause come forward to participate. I think the powerful Islamic pole has emerged, and in the near future this powerful pole will show itself effectively. ... A new era has begun, and great things are in store. The "new Middle East" that Mr. Bush is talking about is something we also believe in, but it's based on Islam. ...

What is Iran's role in [that new era]?

Iran set an example with its Islamic Revolution, and this example manifested its success. In following [the late Supreme Leader] Imam Khomeini, God bless him, we bare-handedly overthrew the pro-American regime of the shah. We then established the government we wanted based on the people's vote. ... Immediately afterward, one week after the victory of the revolution, we had to face American plots, conspiracies from both the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, Israel and some European countries. Several coup attempts were neutralized, as were widespread use of terrorist groups.

And finally the imposition of an eight-year war [between Iran and Iraq] -- bombarding cities with bombs and missiles, the use of chemical weapons, tanker wars [between U.S. and Iranian naval forces in the Persian Gulf], and tens of other incidents. During this whole time, we resisted. ... Therefore, Iran became an example for those nations, an example for forming an Islamic government and for resisting enemies. This model of resistance has spread and been adopted across the Islamic world and today enjoys many supporters.

Of course the West has started to confront this model, and in my opinion, the creation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda was an American attempt to create a parallel movement next to the Iranian model in order to tarnish the Islamic image, just as the Taliban is now doing. ...

Our film is looking at the history of the past six years. What was your personal reaction to the attack on Sept. 11? We heard the week following, at Friday Prayers, the chants of "Death to America" were suspended. Why was that, and why did they come back?

We're fundamentally opposed to terrorist acts because of our religious principles. ... So even though we have been engaged in three decades of hostilities with the U.S., when 9/11 happened, the massacre of civilians in the Twin Towers was condemned by our administration and our people. We don't believe the end justifies the means. ...

But you asked about my personal reaction. We believed at the time that it took place at the hands of the Zionists. It may be difficult for you to believe, but it's not so far-fetched for us. ... Mr. Ariel Sharon was supposed to be in New York that day, but three days earlier, he had postponed his trip. This was a suspicious piece of news we followed up. We obtained information later on that 4,000 Jewish people who worked at the Twin Towers did not turn up for work that day; none were present that day. ... So we became suspicious as to who the real culprits were.

Frankly, we consider Al Qaeda an American creation. It was created by the United States, and we have lots of evidence to back such a claim. Our doubts grew strongly when Mr. Bush pointed the finger at the Islamic world and accused several Muslim countries. Almost without exception, he accused every Muslim organization of being a suspect. These are all questionable. If you remember, even before that, the senior Bush was after a war in the Middle East, which didn't take place after some consultations. So did 9/11 take place to justify Mr. Bush's next moves? We believe this event paved the way for the neocons to take the actions they took next: invading Afghanistan, invading Iraq. And invading Iran was in the works, too.

Iran cooperated with the U.S. to overthrow the Taliban and to install the [Hamid] Karzai government at the Bonn Conference. There seems to have been a decision to work with the U.S.

Well, we considered the Taliban a criminal group, and we believed that the Taliban committed many crimes in Afghanistan against the Afghan people. Secondly, this group committed these crimes under the banner of Islam. The third point is that during the entire period of occupation of Afghanistan, we were the country that provided the most support to the Afghans. The main groups that had the main job of resisting the former Soviet Union occupation had been put aside, and some groups had overtaken the government that were either unknown or were Taliban.

Mr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to [Egyptian President] Mr. Hosni Mubarak, was recruited by the CIA while in Egypt. Mr. bin Laden doesn't deny that he had been an employee of the CIA, but he says that he turned against them. To what extent we don't know.

All these factors led us to help remove the evil government of the Taliban from Afghanistan, and to help those Afghan jihadi groups take over, groups that had been in contact with us before and were in our country for much of their exile. We had these areas of common interest which weighed heavily in our decision to assist to remove the Taliban and to help reconstruct that country, something that still continues today.

Was there a sense that the Americans were coming to Afghanistan no matter what? Clearly they were going to respond after 9/11. If there was a concern that they ultimately wanted to do something here in Iran, better to cooperate, see if ties could be improved in an area where clearly the interest of the two countries coincided. Was there that thinking, too?

No. Perhaps ordinary minds would see it that way, but the dominant thought was that we were very suspicious of the American invasion of Afghanistan, which is still the case. We also didn't consider the Taliban a group worthy of our cooperation; frankly we consider them an American creation, and we have our reasons for this. I can discuss it further, if you like.

Let me add that Americans, after invading Afghanistan, could have easily captured bin Laden and Mullah Omar and Ayman al-Zawahiri, but they didn't do so. ... Because the Taliban was created by the U.S., with Saudi dollars and military assistance from Pakistan, it was easy to find them, but they didn't want to reach that point. This is just an opinion. After 9/11, Mr. Bush shouted that he wanted bin Laden and Mullah Omar dead or alive, but the two people who escaped unscathed were bin Laden and Mullah Omar. These things are questionable. ...

... Clarify from fresh reports in some of the Western media about a supposed offer that came from Iran immediately after the invasion of Iraq, May 2003, a fax sent by the Swiss ambassador to the State Department outlining a series of discussion points for talks between the U.S. and Iran. The Swiss ambassador claimed that this fax had been approved by very senior officials here in Iran. Do you have any light that you can shed on this story for us?

These types of issues, including negotiating with the United States, are among the major policy issues, and according to the law, such major decisions are to be made in the National Security Council of Iran. ... The issues are debated there and should be approved and signed by the Supreme Leader. Until such a process is followed, it will not become a policy to execute.

I heard that story, too. Whoever wrote that letter was in no position to do so. Such issues are of paramount political importance, and no such thing was discussed at the highest levels.

Just to be clear: ... Are you clear in your mind that it was definitely not approved by the National Security Council and the Supreme Leader, or is there a chance maybe that it was, but somehow kept quiet?

No, I'm very confident that that was not the case. I'm quite aware of the Supreme Leader's views; those viewpoints are well known by the public. Not at all. I'm quite certain that this did not happen. We are even a bit suspicious that the Swiss ambassador wrote that fax himself; we don't know it for sure. ... It was not an important issue, and I'm sure the Supreme Leader and the National Security Council had nothing to do with it.

You mentioned the Supreme Leader's views on this kind of thing. Describe his views with regard to the U.S.

Based on what I know about him, and based on what he has said in his public speeches, letters, based on those things, I can provide an explanation. ... I don't mean that the Supreme Leader's views and my views are somehow different; we all follow his views. I mean ... that I will give you my interpretation of his views.

The Supreme Leader believes America doesn't want negotiations to solve the problems that exist between us. America wants negotiations just for the sake of "negotiations." What they intend to do is start "negotiating" with us and then go to all the Islamic movements saying, "Look, if Iran was an example for you, ... well, look, Iran ultimately had to sit at the table with us." That's the only thing Americans want. Therefore we are never in favor of pursuing negotiations with the United States. ...

I can give you an example: On one hand, while the Americans come to us and say, "Let's talk about the security situation in Iraq," at the same time, [Secretary of State] Ms. [Condoleezza] Rice and [Secretary of Defense] Mr. Robert Gates go to Sharm el-Sheikh [Conference on Iraq] and to the region, and they announce that they want to sell $30 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia, $13 billion of arms to Egypt, $30 billion to Israel. What is their aim? They bluntly announce, in the words of Ms. Rice, that this is for your confrontation with Iran. Look, this shows that on the one hand they talk of negotiating, but they are after something else. ...

I have to make it clear that when we say "the United States," it's a reference to the government of the country and not the American people. It's natural that we have nothing against Americans, as we have nothing against the people of any other country. We feel ourselves to be close with the American people.

In my opinion, ... I'm personally happy that the Americans are selling arms to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, because eventually it will not reach them. It's unimportant who sells the arms and who buys them; the important thing is who uses them. I'm happy about these arms sales because we have no intention of getting into a fight with our neighbors, but if there is a war, these weapons will definitely end up in the hands of Islamists. ...

... Are you saying that in Saudi Arabia, for instance, you think there's going to eventually be a different kind of government there?

Very soon. Do you remember that shortly after 9/11, when Mr. Bush attacked us and Syria, and put us in a category with North Korea -- I don't see how North Korea was relevant to the issue -- and then he spoke of "crusade"? After a while he said the political geography of the region must change, and some of the American allies in the region should undergo changes. Saudi Arabia in particular and Egypt saw Bush's remarks as a threat to themselves, and expressed some concerns.

Why does something like that happen? The truth is that in the world today, especially after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, where in the world would it be accepted for just one family to have complete domination over everything in a country? Who said the Saudi family can dominate everything? ...

... What's the perception here to the American charges ... that in Iraq now Iran is supplying weapons, explosives, agents, infiltrating the political system, supporting various militia factions including the Mahdi Army and trying to undermine what they call "project for Iraq," but also they would say the stability of the [Nouri al-]Maliki government? What's your response here to those charges?

I should first say how can Mr. Bush, with all his military posturing and claims to U.S. military power, come to occupy a country and have its army in complete control of that country's borders, yet say that another country is helping some elements there act against the United States? This shows that Bush, the United States, must be very weak.

But th