Completely and totally wiped it out? Or set it back?
Set it back. Set it back ... because the past four months was diminishing [the]
wall of mistrust. But labeling Iran, in many [people's] evaluation in Iran
brought back that wall of mistrust, regardless of all efforts Iran did take in
the past four months to be a part of global coalition against terrorism
What was behind the "axis of evil" comment, do you think?
I think the best person to be asked is President Bush what was behind that
notion. ... Evaluating the current comments on this issue, it seems it was more
or less domestic politics to involve Iran in this notion.
But if you ask some, particularly conservative Americans, what was behind
it, they'll talk about a number of things. ... For example, there is no reason
in the world for Iran, one of the great oil producers on earth, to have a
nuclear power station unless it's for the production of bombs. Iran is
developing delivery systems for the delivery of warheads and weapons of mass
destruction. What is the answer to that?
The United States is one of the main producers of oil, has a great deal of
reservoir of oil, but United States itself has nuclear power. ...
It is very much so a politically motivated allegation. And you see the
unfairness of such charges while Israel has nuclear power, is progressing in
its nuclear warhead. Then the point of allegation comes to Iran. This is a
world should run by international body's rule, not by a country's rule. In such
cases, the existing mechanism of control and investigation has been set up.
It's IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. They deny such charges. ...
Two clarifications. One, Iran's foreign policy doctrine doesn't include
acquiring nuclear power as non-peaceful means. Second, what now Iran try to
achieve in nuclear power in Bushehr has been in the past 30 years. It has been
a part of policy of pre-revolution. There had been investment there, and it was
Then, Iran's policy is to use nuclear power as a peaceful means of energy, and
we continue to do so. That was the reason that we always been open to
inspections, and it has been so repeatedly and regularly by International
Atomic Energy Agency. It is the main international body to supervise any such
acquirement by countries. And not even once they have complained that, or they
have criticized Iran that there is a misconduct. There hasn't been. ...
We recognize that you are surrounded by Pakistan, Israel, India, Iraq. You
are surrounded by weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
Doesn't it make a certain amount of sense that you would also be developing
nuclear weapons capability?
No. We have concern, such as you mentioned. Such countries having nuclear
power increases concerns, not only in Iran -- in the region. And that's the
reason Iran has been an initiator of having Middle East a free zone of weapons
of mass destruction, including nuclear power. It is not in our doctrine to
acquire nuclear power.
The Americans point out that Iran has engaged with North Korea in
development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be capable of
delivering a nuclear warhead.
But these are two different issues. Acquiring nuclear power, nuclear warhead,
is something, as I mentioned, it is not in our -- it is not happening at all,
and there is not one single evidence to show that. Second is the missile issue.
Iran moves based on the international conventions on the missile. We have taken
it as a defensive power, a defensive strategy, and it is our right, based on
the international conventions, to acquire such defensive power for Iran -- as
you mentioned, surrounded by countries of a major threat not only to Iran, but
also to international peace and security.
Then our missile policy is a defensive one. And actually Iran has been an
initiator of missile pact in United Nations to regulate missile policy by all
countries, including Iran. Then what is our plan? It is very transparent, very
clear under international body supervision and regulatory inspection. There is
no secret about this.
Now, the origins of the alienation between -- if not hostility between --
the United States and Iran go back to the beginnings of the Islamic Revolution
and the hostage-taking, and the official approval of the taking of the American
embassy in Iran. Looking back on it now, was that not a mistake?
One clarification. The root doesn't go back to the revolution. The root goes
back to the American involvement in internal politics of Iran during the shah's
time. The coup against Mossadeq, the legitimate government [in 1953]. And
ongoing American involvement, the creation of SAVAK was clearly by the American
support, involvement, training. Ongoing support of the dictator regime of [the]
shah against the masses of Iran. The root of hostility or mistrust goes there.
And what happened in the hostage-taking was a reaction, the reaction by public
against American involvement in the past decades, pre-revolutionary Iran.
Now the Americans have a more serious -- and not just Americans -- but
there's a perception that while the Iranian people are outward-looking people,
and the elected government of Iran is a reformist government, the real power
within Iran lies in a realm where nobody is accountable to anybody except God,
and that it's impossible to do business with that kind of a system. Are they
I think they are wrong in understanding the way in which these sets sit to each
other. In Iran, mainly what it is being perceived here as non-elected,
appointees, many of them are elected. For example, the leadership in Iran which
is the highest power, is being elected by a Council of Expertise [Assembly of
Experts], [whose] members are being directly elected by the public.
Some of them.
No, no, all of them. All the Council of Guardians, Council of Expertise, which
choose the leader, they are being elected directly by the public. To understand
the system is difficult, I agree, because it is unique in itself in today's
world. [Ed. Note: See an overview of the Iranian political
But the system, based on the constitution, had been set through the public --
sometime directly, sometime indirectly. But there is an ongoing challenge, how
these institutions can be put to each other to have one voice, a voice which
respects democracy and will of people, not only in elections, but in daily
And at the same time, to see that we respect values of public, religious values
being respected within this setting. Then it is a challenge, because it's a new
model that is being cooked there. It has its own impediments, its own
progresses. We don't say it has succeeded fully or it has failed. No, it's an
ongoing process. And we have a belief and trust that it will succeed, to come
to the point that you see all these institutions will work together to provide
a system in which we respect the will of people, will interpret the will of
people, and at the same time, respect the values of the society.
Even sympathetic Americans and sympathetic Westerners have a hard time
getting past Iran's involvement in terrorism. How do you justify the continuing
support for organizations that have their fingerprints on acts of violence
Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
We never have supported any groups which take act of terrorism. We have morally
supported groups who are fighting for their independence or for their being out
of occupations, like Hezbollah, as we mentioned.
More than morally.
Hundreds of millions of dollars.
No. Give us evidence. ...
It is widely reported that Hezbollah, up until recently, was supplied with
$100 million a year from Iran, that the Revolutionary Guards were running
training camps for Hezbollah fighters and Hamas fighters, that Iran very
actively supported Hezbollah with money and --
Yes. We deny that. Our support to Hezbollah has been a moral support. We
continue to do that, because in our belief, a fight against occupation is not a
terrorist fight, it is a legitimate fight. It is not terrorism. We do not
distinguish between bad terrorists and good terrorists. Terrorists are bad.
Terrorists are evil. ...
Terrorism is a menace of this world. We are against terrorism. But we
differentiate between terrorist act with those legitimate rights of people who
had been or are under occupation. ...
But what is a terrorist, then?
Okay, terrorists are those who are occupying another country, those who are
putting the civilians' life under threat and danger for their
political-motivated illegitimate [reasons]. If someone occupies another's
country, the occupier is a terrorist. But the one who fights occupation, in any
standard, would be a legitimate fighter.
But what about the one who walks into a pizzeria or a bus or into a
marketplace and blows up everything around them?
In our official position, putting the civilians' life in danger, no matter
where, is not legitimate. Islamically, based on Islamic values, it's not
But it's been happening, and it's been happening under the sponsorship of
organizations that are considered to be creations of Iranian foreign
It's happening because no one gets to the root of why it's happening, and that
actually was our president's message in post-Sept. 11, that to fight terrorism,
it requires two issues. One, it requires a global fight, a global coalition to
fight terrorism. And secondly, to go to the roots of such act.
If one neglect the root and just look at what is going on, you might eradicate
it today; but because the root is there, tomorrow you will have different kind
of act of terrorism or act of violence. Then it is there because no one wants
to take the hardship of looking into the root of such violence. That's our
message. It has been our message.
Go to the roots, and then, if you resolve the roots -- for example, in the
Palestinian issue, if you have a fair, lasting peace there, then you have
resolved the root. If you give the right of self-determination, give the right
of return to the Palestinians who have been kicked out of their own homeland,
then you have resolved the root, and there will be an end to this violence.
But if you want to deny such rights -- which are legitimate rights, on any
standard -- to Palestinians, and you just want to end violence, it won't end
there. And it has been proved in the past years that it hasn't. We are in this
belief that whatever Palestinians decide, we respect that. That's their
decision; that's their future. ...
Does this justify the provision of arms? Recently a shipload of arms bound
for Palestine was intercepted by the Israeli navy. Iran is accused of having
been the origin of that shipload of arms. Is this justified by the struggle of
the Palestinian people?
No. We haven't been a part of that ship. From the first day that such
accusation raised, we ask give us evidence. If it is so, the government of Iran
will act strongly against any involvement, any possible involvement by anyone.
But a month has passed. Accusations through media have been on the air, but no
one has given us evidence.
The strongest rebuttal is that, "Well, we wouldn't have sent it by boat
anyway. We usually fly it to Damascus and deliver it by truck." I mean, there
is a flow of arms from Iran to Palestine.
That's an allegation. Is there a proof that there had been a flow of arms from
Iran to Palestine, from Iran to Damascus and then through Damascus to there?
No. We say no. If there is such allegation, if there is such proof, let us
know, because you are talking about an issue which we deny. We haven't been a
part. It is against our policy.
Then, if there are some evidence, why is Iran being deprived of those evidence?
Because our government made it clear, if there is such evidence, we will
strongly react against that. We will strongly put those who has committed such
issue on trial.
You flatly deny that Iran has provided financial support for Hezbollah,
Hamas, Islamic Jihad?
And you flatly deny that Iran has provided armaments to the Palestinian
This ship, what, what has been --
This specific ship. You flatly deny that? What about the general
... As we said, we believe, and it is not only Iran's belief -- in the Muslim
world, if you go to any countries, nowadays even governments of Muslim world,
they all take the same approach as Iran takes -- we support morally the cause
of deprived Palestinians. But it is up to them. We haven't supported them
financially, we haven't supported them through armaments. We deny exactly, and
that's actually what I mention. Give us evidence on this issue.
But no one, it seems that in a way, it's a cooking taking place through some
pressure group, some lobby groups, on the interest of one individual country
against Iran. Why [does] no one provide Iran with evidence on such a major
accusation? Have you asked Americans or Israelis, "Why don't you provide the
evidence while we are asking for the evidence?"
Americans will tell you that the State Department, the CIA, and that all the
American agencies have absolutely, satisfactorily proved that Iran is
What is secret about this evidence that they don't provide it to Iran? ...
Our policy vis-a-vis Palestine has been clear. In our view, a lasting peace
should be a just peace -- determining the right of Palestinians on their land,
the right of a return of refugees. But this is our view. We do not impose our
view. It is their decision, the second issue. What they decide, we respect, no
matter it is against our view or not. ...
Whatever they decide we respect. We respect Palestinians' decision, because it
is those rights. We don't hide our views. ... We clearly give our view, but we
don't impose our view. ... We won't be more Palestinian than Palestinians
But surely it is a major impediment with the United States, for example,
that you have not granted the right of Israel to exist.
We believe United States should play a fair role in the Middle East issue. If
they don't do that, if they move as they have done up to now, a one-sided,
biased approach in the Middle East case, that source of violence will not be
resolved. ... You should be fair on your approach within the issue there. If
they don't, it would remain there. This is the analysis. ...
When we were in Iran, we saw a lot of evidence of the ongoing tensions
between the elected and the reform-minded Iranians and the conservatives. We
also heard a lot about repression of dissidents, repression of reformers.
People go to jail. People disappear off the street. How seriously do you take
the evolution of the Iranian political system?
It is serious, because there is a transition process underway. When you have a
genuine indigenous process of reform, which exists in Iran, this process has
its negative and positive outcomes. What you hear in Iran -- not secretly,
[but] in the street, in the bus, to the people -- this means that this process
is going on, that people feel free to tell you their dissatisfaction or their
satisfaction. That process is moving forward.
But it is important to notice that if in the past, for example, a year or so, a
number of media or newspapers had been shut down; more numbers of those media
now have come to the scene. This is an ongoing process.
But isn't it essentially wrong to shut down newspapers because they are
critical of ...?
The shutdown has been based on the law. There are some shortcomings within the
law itself. The Parliament now is trying to redefine it, to have amendments on
the law. Mainly these shutdowns of newspapers had been based on understanding
from an article of the law, that if you accuse an individual, then you don't
have proof of such accusation, you are responsible. And based on the decision
by the court, that newspaper should be shut down.
But that can be a law that's used to totally gag dissent, because inevitably
the criticism is going to have to be directed at someone.
Yes, I agree. That's what I said. The shortcoming of the law is that, that
the law should respect individual's right, but at the same time, should respect
very much so the collective right of the society. But the media had to have a
free hand to criticize whatever they -- it seems it's in the interest of the
public. That's a shortcoming of the law, which is now being discussed within
the Parliament, the reformist Parliament -- to have a new law on media itself.
But the liveliness of these processes -- if one paper is shut down, two papers
just come out. It is frustrating to see that at all there is a shutdown. But it
is an ongoing process, because it is indigenous. We haven't copied another
model of external world. We have very much trust on the success of this
process, because it is a process within the society of Iran.
There is concern about the background of a long history of repression,
including assassination. A German court has documented what they say are 89
assassinations in Europe. We hear of hundreds of people assassinated in Iran
... There had been misconduct in the past. One of them you mentioned, within
our intelligence ministry. But it is a free country, and one evidence for that
is exactly this: that if there is such misconduct in the most important
intelligence institution of the country ... it won't be covered up. And they
did it. It was disclosed, and the people brought to court. It hasn't finished
yet. That shows that the process of reform is genuine, the process of reform is
lively. No one within the government wants to cover it up. But they want to
deal with it and try to deal with it correctly. ...
And the government could cover it up. But it was the government of President
Khatami which actually raised the issue, disclosed it, and give a message, a
counter-message to those who are committing this, that we will disclose it and
we will deal with it openly to the public. ...
Then it is a process in Iran, a process of reform against those who want to
manipulate power, against those who think that power is always from up to
bottom which has been a culture for decades in the shah's period. This process
will continue. It has its own cost, unfortunately. But it is continuing, and it
is moving in a direction of interpreting the will of people within the states.
Ayatollah Montazeri is under house arrest for quite a long time now for
daring to suggest that there should be more transparency regarding the Supreme
Office. This is what happened to him. He's not allowed out of his house. What
does this say about the move toward transparency?
Well that's a special case, Ayatollah Montazeri has had his classes, daily
classes -- there have been some problems from the public, a lot of the public
against his office, that overall the government decided to protect him and his
office of the mobs or those who are demonstrating against his views. And he's
not under house arrest, even though there are restrictions of his movements --
mainly because of the security reason for his and his family's life.
You say he's being kept in his house for his own good?
No, he hasn't been kept in his house. He hasn't been kept in his house. He has
his daily courses. He goes to classes that he has. He has his own meetings.
He's got guards stationed, video surveillance camera at the front door of
his house. ... It has all the characteristics of a house arrest. What else
would you call it?
Well, I'm not familiar now with what all the situation these days with respect
to this case. But as I said, there are cases which the government should
separate misconduct from the rule of law. Misconduct by groups or individuals
should be addressed properly and strongly. ... If a law needs amendment, the
law needs to be changed. It should be done. And it is the process which is
moving forward. It's a reality that, in Iran, there are two views. One is the
reform views, and one is the conservative views. And each view has some
legitimacy in its power. It is the interconnection and interrelation of these
It is observed very widely that the reform view is a more accurate
reflection of what the people want, and that there is an artificial restraint
being imposed by the conservative view. ...
And that's what you see that reform is succeeding. I mean, the day President
Khatami came to power and today, if you compare the level of transparency, the
level of freedom, the level of accepting the will of people within the state,
is so much different. It is moving forward. Sometimes it has too much
impediments, moves slowly. Sometimes [it] moves fast and strongly.
President Khatami, because he has got a power from the public to move on --
that's what he is doing. He is against, and the public would be against, that
he would move reform without rule of law or out of the rule of law and
regulations. And if you want to live within the rules or through changing the
rules, it takes time. It is not an easy task. It might take a generation or
more. That's a process. It's a major shift.
But who decides? The people or the...
It's a combination of the state based on the constitution.
The constitution right now seems to give a lot of arbitrary authority to the
clerics and to the arms of military enforcement. ...
No, it is not. But if even we assume you are right, that it gives such power,
can reform move out of rule of constitution? That's illegitimate. That's
against the will of public that has given to the president to move within the
rule of law. If there is wrong within the law, you should change the law, not
move against the law.
And that's actually the message, the major message of the president: that even
though these impediments exist, our conduct should be within the rule of law.
And if the law is inefficient, then we should amend the law; we should change
the law through its set process, which is Parliament. ...
There have been four high-profile assassinations since President Khatami
came into office. Are they aberrations, or does he have really as much
influence as --?
... There have been misconducts, as I said. The major cases have been the ones
that the government of President Khatami disclosed itself, a misconduct within
the ministry of intelligence. ...
There have been cases. For example, let me give you a United States case,
assassination by CIA in the past which no one knew and they denied it totally
after 30 years, 40 years, 50 years. Now they are disclosing the documents which
show CIA and the government of United States was behind it.
This was a very healthy process in Iran, that the government itself has closed
a major misconduct by its ministry of intelligence. That shows the process is
healthy, it's moving forward. But it doesn't mean that today there is no
misconduct, no. The process of reformation and rule of law is a continuous
process. And we hope very soon we reach to a point that any misconduct by
anyone would be very soon stopped. ...
How do you explain the allegation that 89 people -- to be specific -- have
been killed in Europe?
I don't agree with the numbers, as I said, because many of these allegations
and accusations, it's not clear that it has been misconduct of someone or not.
But as I said, we should differentiate between the policy of government and
policy of a few who might be in power or who have power in some institutions --
and they want to exert either their reading or their policy or they want to put
clearly impediments in the reform process.
And the policy of government of Iran never has been, and there is no need for
that. Iranian government is strong enough to be in power and has been based on
the vote and will of public in Iran, rather than going against its dissidents.
Then we should differentiate between government's policy and groups or
individuals' misconduct. And what now the government is trying to do is to
limit and eliminate any misconduct by individuals or groups out of the rule of
There's testimony in Germany that the Council, the most important body in
Iran, ordered the executions of the 89 people. ...
For sure, we question such testimonies in courts. It is clear because anyone
can testimony anything. What is the legitimacy of such testimony? It's the same
as this about the ship [Karine A] that I mentioned. There is such
accusation. But if you come back to the existing process it is a healthy
process. It moves on. And in this process there is a price, there is a cost; no
doubt about it. But it moves on, because it is indigenous, because it has the
support of public behind it. It moves on, and it will settle in a point that
everyone can interpret its support or opposition within the framework of law
under the nation. ...
Dictatorships always defend their actions by saying they are really
enforcing the law. How do you change the law if it is against the law to take
action against the law?
Exactly -- if it is a dictatorship, it doesn't. It's a vicious circle. But if
it's a democratic society that the government, the president being elected by
majority of people -- which in our contemporary world is unique in itself,
about 80 percent of eligible voters have come to vote and choose in a
democratic way the president -- and then the Parliament, which you know is a
majority reform Parliament. There is a clear way of the law. Reformist
Parliament will amend the law, even if it is blocked by Council of Guardians.
There is a third party.
Many argue that the Council of Guardians, the nature of the office of the
Supreme Leader, makes the land a dictatorship.
No, not many argue that. Many might argue that there are some problems which
need to be responded. ... But there is a process in a democratic society. That
process sometimes might be stopped, for example, in this institution or the
other, but it will continue. Some of the law had been stopped by Council of
Guardians and then had gone to the Council of Expediency, which is set there if
there is an argument between Parliament and the Council of Guardians ... then
they would be resolved. Then there is a democratic process of amending the law.
Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it's frustrating, but there is a process.
And this process is working, actually.
What's it going to take to get Iran and the United States to talk to each
I think they were talking to each other in the past few months, especially
before Sept. 11, through multilateral channels. With this new labeling of Iran
by President Bush, I think they should do something to remove that new
mistrust. ... Well, they have made this labeling accusation, which many
believes have been wrong -- even within the United States administration now.
They should correct that.
Take it back?
Correct. Taking it back is one way.
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