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Transcript | UK Foreign Secretary Hague: 'We Will Keep up the Pressure' on Iran

18 Apr 2012 23:02Comments
HagueBBC.jpg[ transcript ] On Monday afternoon, BBC Tehran correspondent James Reynolds interviewed British Foreign Secretary William Hague about the talks that took place over the weekend in Istanbul between Iran and the P5+1 group concerning the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. In the interview, whose transcript is published below with permission of the BBC, Hague describes the "better atmosphere" of the negotiations relative to previous talks, while he declares that the Western powers will not "lift sanctions in the hope that something will emerge from Iranian negotiators. We will keep up the pressure." Looking ahead to the resumption of talks in Baghdad on May 23, he states that it is important that they proceed "to the implementation of practical steps," but refrains from articulating exactly what steps the West considers priorities. -- The Editors

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, yesterday [Sunday] said that the talks offered Iran a "freebie." Do you agree with him?

No. I don't think it would have felt like that to the Iranians. These are difficult talks, of course. They took place in a more positive atmosphere than previous talks and so that is a good first step. We should not become overexcited about that. This is a very, very difficult problem to solve. Previous talks, as everyone knows, have been unsuccessful. But the[se] were good enough and the atmosphere good enough for a second round of talks to be arranged at the end of May, for officials to do further work before that second round of talks. So we're very sincere about these negotiations as well as very firm about the sanctions that we are intensifying at the same time and we will continue to pursue that twin-track approach.

If the atmosphere was more positive, does this mean that you can now call your Israeli counterpart and say there's no need to think about bombing?

Well we're not in favor of Israel launching a military strike on Iran, certainly in these circumstances. And we've said that to the Israelis, we've already said that to the Israelis. One of the reasons we're pursuing the policy of sanctions and negotiations is to try to avert any military conflict in the region. So, yes, we're very clear about that. We have to give -- everybody should give -- this process a chance to succeed. But it's very important now that Iran shows the way forward to practical steps, to the implementation of practical steps, that would demonstrate their program is for peaceful purposes and to be able to reach an agreement on this issue.

Talking about time -- this negotiation process has been going on since 2003. At one point in 2003, E.U. foreign ministers thought they had a deal about an enrichment freeze. That collapsed. In 2009 there was a possible deal about the export of a supply of uranium. That then collapsed. Why should this time be any different?

It may not be any different. And I think it's right to come at this always with a skeptical eye, a cautious eye. We have no idea yet -- no true idea -- as to whether Iran really means to negotiate a peaceful solution to this program. But we do know that there was a better atmosphere in these talks. We do know that enough progress was made to have a second round of discussions and that is different from -- at least -- the last attempt to do this. It's obviously worth persisting in.

Critics would also say that in the time -- in the nine years that Britain has been involved in negotiations, Iran has managed to enrich potentially enough low enriched uranium for four nuclear bombs with further enrichment. It's started work in an underground enrichment facility. That's all happened while you've been talking. And a lot of critics might say -- they may just be playing you for time.

Well absolutely this is what I've often said myself -- that Iran may be playing for time -- absolutely that is right. And that is why we have intensified sanctions so much. These are unprecedented sanctions that the European Union in particular has now taken to stop the import of Iranian oil into the E.U. Of course, the United States and other countries have applied many sanctions as well. So yes, time has been passing and Iran has been enriching uranium in that time. That is why this is an urgent matter. That is why we're putting such enormous emphasis on this. They have been doing all of those things. But the economic pressure on them has been growing as well and they have decided to return to negotiations.

U.N. Security Council resolutions call on Iran to freeze uranium enrichment immediately. But I saw suggestions in Istanbul from a number of diplomats that perhaps people are now beginning to consider allowing Iran to continue its enrichment of low enriched uranium -- which is a big issue in Iran. Is that going to be a change in the position that you offer Iran. Will you say "You win" -- you can continue to enrich low enriched uranium?

Well I don't think we can get into the -- I don't think we can give a public commentary all through the details of negotiations. And certainly this first round of negotiations was more about atmosphere and exchange of views and seeing whether it would be possible to countenance making progress in a second round. So it hasn't got into these kinds of issues. Certainly our position, in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions, is that enrichment must stop. That is absolutely right.

But I see suggestions that diplomats are starting to row back from that -- saying actually they can envisage a situation in which Iran continues to enrich and that's not something that's been said before.

There will be many suggestions from all directions and of all kinds. If these talks go on for a while, of course people will be constantly making suggestions. But this is not something that has been discussed so far.

When do we get to details?

Well as negotiations proceed. It depends what happens now. There is a second round of negotiations to be held on the 23rd of May in Baghdad. It will depend on what happens there as to whether there are further rounds of negotiation.

But a lot of people would think -- hold on, it's all very well having a nice positive atmosphere, having a nice dinner and so on, but when do we get to talk about 20 percent-enriched uranium, when do people get talking about Fordow -- the facility under the bunker. When do those concrete, substantive issues actually get addressed?

It's not possible, as I say, to give a running commentary on which issue would be discussed when. But clearly it is important now that negotiations move on to practical steps and the implementation of those steps, how they would be implemented. It will be necessary, if these negotiations are to get anywhere, to get into much more detail in succeeding rounds of negotiation. That is obviously true. But I don't think we're going to be able to predict what issue progress will be made on at what time.

You've said there [will be] "several rounds of negotiations." Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, said in November last year that perhaps by the end of 2012 Iran was going to enter into a "zone of immunity." You don't have all that much time to get through several rounds of negotiations.

Well, that depends on how many rounds, when they are, how they're spaced from each other, and what you mean by a "zone of immunity." There are many questions begged in there. Is this an urgent issue? Yes it is. That is why we've agreed unprecedented sanctions. That is why we've put such effort into the start of these negotiations. The world can see that it is an urgent issue. But is it worth trying to negotiate while intensifying the pressure on Iran? Well yes, it is worth doing that as well. And so that is our approach.

Your Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said, "If the West wants to take confidence building measures it should start in the field of sanctions.... If there's good will one can pass through this process very easily, we can wrap it all up in Baghdad." Simple as that, lift sanctions and it's over.

Well I doubt that's the case. When sanctions were weaker than they are now, of course Iran was continuing with its nuclear program and indeed it may be the imposition of sanctions, the intensification of sanctions that is coming over the next few months that has contributed to Iran's readiness to come back to the negotiating table. So it certainly won't be our approach to lift sanctions in the hope that something will emerge from Iranian negotiators. We will keep up the pressure.

What specifically do you want to get out of the round of talks in Baghdad on the 23rd [of] May?

We want to make sure that negotiations go on to practical steps, to the implementation of practical steps. As you have said in your questions, they can't always be about good atmosphere and seeing whether it's possible to have productive talks. Clearly they will need to get more specific. But I don't think it's possible to set -- six weeks in advance -- in public exactly what we would want out of those negotiations.

Copyright © 2012 BBC

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