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Q&A | Rafsanjani: US Has Upper Hand in Nuclear Negotiations

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI (translator)

30 May 2012 23:51Comments

Former president implicitly rebukes Ahmadinejad administration for "making so much noise" about country's nuclear program.

LarijaniRafsanjani.jpg[ interview ] Translator's note: In an interview with the newspaper Jomhouri Eslami, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani offered an analysis of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany -- that differs sharply from the one that has prevailed in the Iranian media so far.

Jomhouri Eslami was founded by Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini Beheshti, the first chief of the Iranian judiciary following the 1979 Revolution (he was assassinated in 1981.) The paper served as the mouthpiece for the cleric-dominated Islamic Republican Party through the mid-1980s. After the party was dissolved on May 15, 1987 -- partly as a result of the dispute between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi -- the daily became a voice for the traditional conservative clerics. Managing Editor Masih Mohajeri is close to Rafsanjani. Along with the nuclear talks, Rafsanjani also discusses his relationship with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- Sunday will mark the 32nd anniversary of his death. It has been reported widely that Rafsanjani, along with Majles Speaker Ali Larijani (pictured), played a central role in persuading Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to agree to negotiate with the P5+1, making his views particularly important. -- Muhammad Sahimi

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Over the past several months the negotiations between Iran and the United States have been the top issue. What do you think the conditions should be for the negotiations to move forward?

We must somehow see some good gestures on their part. If they want to continue their enmity and at the same time negotiate with us, it will not solve anything. It will have the opposite result. In fact, if some day America demonstrated its good intentions [toward Iran], the situation would be different. As the Imam [Khomeini] said, "If America becomes reasonable, then we can solve our problems with it. We cannot not talk to them until the Judgment Day." Right now, the Americans are using sanctions and pressure. In the negotiations, they also have the upper hand. They have imposed the sanctions and are exerting pressure. They have [also] imposed sanctions through the United Nations. Now, if we sit down with them to negotiate, they say, "You do this, and then we stop some sanctions." But this is not negotiations.

Is there any possibility for some efforts [by the Obama administration to reach an agreement with Iran] to use it as a winning card in the upcoming presidential elections in the United States?

They want to use it. That means, if they have some important achievement so that they can tell the American people that we [the administration] forced Iran to surrender, it will represent a great achievement [to them], because Iran has never surrendered and such sanctions will not force it to surrender. But they may have something else in mind that they may try to do for the elections, such as what [George W.] Bush did in Iraq. The American government is embarrassed by what is happening in Afghanistan. They have daily casualties and the security of Afghanistan has not improved. A huge sum has been spent there, but nothing important has resulted. Even narcotics [production and export] has increased dramatically. And we saw what happened in Iraq; they were forced to retreat and leave Iraq. Of course, the Iraq [debacle] was Bush's [work]. Given the condition that they are in, they may want to use this [negotiation with Iran] in the elections.... It appears that they [the P5+1] are united for the negotiations. Even China and Russia have said that Iran must stop uranium enrichment. In the past they never applied such pressure, and this has made the situation somewhat difficult.

Your Excellency, Mr. Rafsanjani, as you know, these days the nuclear negotiations are being discussed, and the Baghdad negotiations took place over two days, and issues have been brought up that necessitated the continuation of the negotiations in Moscow [on June 17 and 18]. What is your evaluation of the negotiations? What is your evaluation of the position of the Islamic Republic today, as compared with its position before the presidential elections of June 2009?

After the Istanbul meeting [on April 14], both Iran and the West made statements that created false optimism. We wanted to create some hope in the country, and the Westerners, due to the economic problems that they have, needed the negotiations. But it became clear in Baghdad that things are not that way [easily solvable]. We still do not have complete information, and it is not easy to evaluate and analyze [what happened in Baghdad]. What is clear is that they have come forward with the weapon of sanctions and say that, using them, we have forced Iran to come to the negotiation table. Of course, Iran has demonstrated that it will not be scared by such sanctions and threats. Thus, we must wait a bit longer to receive more complete information.

Regarding the progress of the nuclear program, we must admit that some of it began before the Revolution. Several nuclear power plants were designed, and the work on the Bushehr reactor began. We had the Amirabad Center [in Tehran that houses the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and some of its laboratories], which was very modern. But they [the Americans] did not help us later. Argentina helped us [when it redesigned the Tehran Research Reactor in 1992 and supplied its fuel for 20 years], which simplified our work. Right from the first decade [after the Revolution] and even during the war [with Iraq], we were moving toward all aspects of nuclear technology, except the military aspect. It has many benefits in agriculture and health and medical treatment. The nuclear industry is an important industry.

In the first decade [after the Revolution], the work was progressing slowly due to the war. In the second, decade during my administration [1989-1997], the pace of work quickened and almost everything that we have now began in that era, either in the first or second decade. We restarted Bushehr after it had been left incomplete. During my administration we talked to Russia and then signed a formal agreement [in 1995] to complete the Bushehr reactor. We also signed an agreement with China to construct two other nuclear power plants, and paid them...to begin their work. [Construction of] the UCF [uranium conversion facility] had been discussed under the Shah, but the agreement to construct the modern UCF in Isfahan was signed during my administration. They [the Chinese] gave us the design, and did the preliminary work, but cancelled their agreements with us under pressure by the United States, both for the UCF and for the two nuclear power plants. The studies for the heavy water [reactor near Arak] were completed during my administration. We hired a consultant in Russia; the consultant approved our work, and we began the work, which is still continuing [it is scheduled to come online in 2015]. We began the work for enrichment in Amirabad, which I visited. [At that time] we did not use uranium gas [uranium hexafluoride], but used something else. Manufacturing of the centrifuges also began in Amirabad.

After my administration, they [the Khatami administration] decided to move the work to the Karaj suburb [west of Tehran], and then to Natanz. Some work on the use of lasers for enrichment had been done during the Shah [see here], but was incomplete. During my administration, Russia supplied us with certain items. The Americans were pressuring them heavily. So the Russians cancelled their agreement with us [for laser enrichment], but we continued the work ourselves. [Thus], everything that we have now existed since then and has progressed. We did not have much propaganda and publicity [about what we had achieved] and did not have any problem with the [International Atomic Energy] Agency either. There was some publicity during the government of Mr. [Mohammad] Khatami, and they became sensitive, and it was claimed gradually [by the Ahmadinejad administration] that Iran has become a nuclear power, and that got us to where we are now. The system [is the same as what] existed [during my administration]. Any country that wanted to become nuclear took 30-40 years to do so, and we also have had a gradual move toward nuclear power. If they do not create problems for us, we will be a nuclear power. We want peaceful nuclear power, and are not interested in nonpeaceful nuclear power. [...]

Regarding the nuclear problems, do you think that we would have experienced any problem with the peaceful use of nuclear energy, if we had better relations with the world, and both us and them [the West] had not picked on each other and searched for any excuse [to criticize the other side]?

We began the work before the war [with Iraq; actually before the Revolution], and no one protested. We signed agreements with China and Russia, and no one protested. During my administration we signed the agreement with Russia for the heavy water [nuclear reactor], and no one protested. We signed an agreement with Russia for the laser [enrichment], and no one protested. We also made advancements and no one bothered us.

It is possible to achieve what we want in a good international atmosphere. We began in such an atmosphere, invested in it, made progress, and arrived at where we are now. They [the West] declare that Iran should not develop a nuclear weapon capability to make them, even if it [Iran] does not want to use them. [They claim that] Iran's nuclear power is a threat to them, [but] this is just an excuse. We do not want to make nuclear weapons; we have always said so. I believe that the idea [of setting up a nuclear infrastructure] and making progress up to certain level should not be any problem. Japan and South Korea also faced problems [in their nuclear programs], but they did not make so much noise like we do [during the Ahmadinejad administration]. Turkey has also made important advances in its nuclear program, but it does not make so much noise. We also want to be organized and make progress.

There is, of course, an important issue here for the nezaam [the political system] that is emphasized by the [Supreme] Leader, and that is that they [the West] want to consolidate their domination of us and force us to surrender. They want to destroy the glory of the nezaam and the Islamic Revolution. We should take away any excuse from them. Having access to nuclear energy is our need, and the great Iran cannot be denied this access. Iran cannot be empty handed when it comes to nuclear energy. There are many countries much smaller than us that are more advanced [in nuclear energy] than us. We have more right. Twenty-three nuclear reactors [and power plants] were supposed to be constructed in Iran [by 1990 according to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi's plan].

related reading | Iranian Ex-Diplomat: P5+1 'Wants Iran to Give Diamonds for Peanuts' | Former Iran Nuclear Negotiator: Bush Negotiation Bid Was Rebuffed | Rafsanjani: I Wanted to Reestablish Ties with US, But 'Could Not'

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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