SPIEGEL-Interview "Now Europe must act"
Teheran's nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani discusses his country's controversial nuclear program, the conflict with Washington, and US President George W. Bush' Middle East initiative.
Hodjatolislam Rohani, in his most recent statement Mohammed al-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, criticizes Iran, claiming its willingness to cooperate is, to some extent, "less than satisfactory." Why are you so opposed to inspections?
Rohani: In the name of merciful God! We have done everything to defuse the accusation that our nuclear activities are not for peaceful purposes. We voluntarily responded to the IAEA's many questions, gave the inspectors free access to all sites, signed the supplementary protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and submitted 1030 pages of documents. We have delivered the transparency demanded by Vienna. We expect the IAEA to acknowledge this effort and close our case as soon as possible.
SPIEGEL: The IAEA will not clear Iran until all doubts have been completely eliminated. This seems to be a long way off.
Rohani: Perhaps the expectations of the IAEA and the West simply exceed the limits of the law. There are always situations in which one disagrees. Moreover, some of the questions raised by the IAEA are highly controversial, such as asking us to provide detailed information about suppliers. The Vienna agency has no right to make such demands. Nevertheless, we have also answered these questions.
SPIEGEL: But unfortunately not to the full satisfaction of the nuclear inspectors. For example, you have yet to provide a convincing explanation for the traces of enriched uranium that be evidence of secret nuclear projects in your country.
Rohani: This uranium is not recent. When it was discovered last year, we were just as surprised as everyone else. It was found on imported equipment…
SPIEGEL:... which you had purchased for your nuclear program on the black market.
Rohani: The agency accepted our explanation, except in one case, which involves the origin of small amounts of 36% enriched uranium. We would also like to see this issue resolved.
SPIEGEL: The amounts that were found are much too large to be solely attributable to contaminated imported equipment.
Rohani: This conclusion, which was also made by the IAEA, is incorrect. The only way to resolve this is to conduct more inspections. For this reason, we have expressly asked the agency to conduct new inspections. If the Americans continue to claim that we have something to hide, they should give their information to the UN inspectors. We expect our case to be handled technically and legally, but not politically.
SPIEGEL: But your enormous procurement program for centrifuges, which can be used for both civilian and military purposes, has only heightened Western suspicions.
Rohani: If a country wishes to produce fuel for its power plants, it needs centrifuges. We are certainly entitled to the civilian use of nuclear energy. No one can hold that against us.
SPIEGEL: You are entirely responsible for having generated the mistrust of the West with your contradictory statements. First you said that the equipment was produced in Iran, but then that it was supposedly purchased in other countries.
Rohani: Both statements are correct. We purchased some equipment from a middleman. We then used this equipment as prototypes to produce our own equipment.
SPIEGEL: Well, why don't you prove your willingness to cooperate by identifying your black market dealers?
Rohani: We have already given the IAEA all that information, including the addresses of the dealers.
SPIEGEL: Did you – like Libya – purchase your equipment through Pakistan's nuclear black market?
Rohani: Our middleman was in Dubai.
SPIEGEL: And who else was involved?
Rohani: There was a company from your country, Germany. We have already given the name to the IAEA.
SPIEGEL: If you had behaved so openly from the very beginning, the dispute with the IAEA would not have escalated to such a degree.
Rohani: If we did not disclose certain information in the past, we had clear reasons for doing so, reasons we have repeatedly explained to the IAEA. We did not want to be unfairly belittled by the industrialized nations.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps you were simply using your refusal to cooperate to conceal the traces of a nuclear weapons program?
Rohani: We signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty…
SPIEGEL:... which doesn't necessarily mean anything.
Rohani: Last December, through the mediation of the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany, we also signed the supplementary protocol, which grants the IAEA comprehensive inspection rights. We expect that our nuclear file will be closed as soon as possible. In fact, it should be closed already.
SPIEGEL: It will remain open as long you insist on proceeding with the controversial construction of a heavy water reactor in Arak and the uranium reprocessing plant in Isfahan. Serious doubts have been raised as to whether these facilities are for purely civilian purposes.
Rohani: We believe that there are some countries that are always looking for excuses. Isfahan was a good example of this. Before construction was even begun there, everything took place under the supervision of the IAEA. Now, as we finally plan to begin reprocessing uranium, the protests are coming in. Why? Because the West believes it has a monopoly on nuclear technology. And why do they keep asking us for the names of our suppliers? Certainly not to encourage them to continue working with us.
SPIEGEL: Do you intend to resist Europe's demands?
Rohani: The Europeans also assumed obligations in signing the Teheran Declaration. They agreed to make it easier for us to acquire civilian nuclear technology. That is what we are waiting for. Now Europe must act and fulfill its part of the bargain. As long as this does not occur, Europe should not be making any other demands.
SPIEGEL: Some of the most harshly-worded statements are coming from the newly elected parliament. It seems unlikely that the members of parliament will ratify the supplementary protocol.
Rohani: If our delegates are under the impression that the West is just looking for excuses to prevent Iran from gaining access to modern technology, they will refuse to vote for the treaty. However, the committees in charge of this issue were only formed in the past few days. It is too early to tell what our delegates will conclude. However, I am convinced that they will acknowledge the good faith of the IAEA, as well as of Germany, France and Great Britain by voting in favor of the treaty.
SPIEGEL: Europe is lenient with Iran when compared with the United States. Washington would love to bring Teheran to account before the UN Security Council and achieve sanctions against Iran. Can your country even afford further escalation of the conflict?
Rohani: It will not get that far. We will work with the IAEA in the long term, and will answer all questions. The IAEA can conduct all inspections. In fact, according to the latest Vienna report, we have even approved additional surprise inspections in the near future. Furthermore, the Americans have withdrawn their Security Council threats.
SPIEGEL: Washington's new milder approach could have something to do with the fact that US President George W. Bush is having a lot of problems in your neighboring country, Iraq.
Rohani: No, their behavior is a result of the conclusions drawn by the nuclear inspectors and the balance of power within the political leadership of the IAEA, where the USA is pretty much on its own.
SPIEGEL: America is also desperately seeking allies next door, in Iraq. Will you help the United States in building a new Iraq?
Rohani: We want a national government to be in charge of the country as soon as possible, and we want to security and stability established in Iraq.
SPIEGEL: The Americans are talking about creating a western-style democracy in Iraq. Is this something you could accept?
Rohani: I have yet to comprehend the American standards for democracy. We at least hope that Iraq will have a democracy that reflects the voice of the people and its national values, and one in which all groups can participate. Perhaps the United States has an entirely different concept, however.
They usually don't like independent governments. They are also very embarrassed about the fact that religious leader Ayatollah Sistani has insisted on free elections being held as soon as possible, and that they themselves have long avoided this demand.
SPIEGEL: Because they are afraid that your fellow Shiite, Sistani, will declare a theocracy in Iraq similar to that in power in Iran.
Rohani: I believe that the future government in Baghdad will be very dissimilar to that in Teheran. As a matter of principle, no country should dictate or try to influence what another country does.
SPIEGEL: Well, Iran seems to be quite good at getting involved, such as by training fanatics to commit suicide attacks on Americans and their allies. There are rumored to be about 15,000 of these kamikaze candidates.
Rohani: The goal of our efforts is to quench the internal fire in Iraq. However, it is certainly possible that the events there may prompt certain groups to feel that their religious sensibilities have been violated, and to plan some sort of independent response. We are very concerned that the destruction of the holy sites in Najaf and Kerbela will cause the conflict to explode. That is something we wish to prevent.
SPIEGEL: For US President Bush, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was simply the beginning of a mission in the "greater Middle East," with which he intends to bring freedom and democracy to the people of the region.
Rohani: The United States should first save itself in Iraq. Once that has occurred, and if they truly support free and fair elections in the region, we will support them. But the development of democracy is only a cover for the Americans. The USA's only interests in the region are oil and its own influence, as well as that of its ally, Israel. That's why they only pressure the Palestinians.
SPIEGEL: The US government is certainly trying to convince Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to agree to concessions.
Rohani: Sharon does not abide by any treaties. Even when he says he intends to withdraw from territory, such as the Gaza Strip, he does so unilaterally and for his own benefit. And, in doing so, he is trampling on the peace plan developed by the Middle East Quartet, the EU, Russia, the United States and the UN.
SPIEGEL: You criticize Sharon's lack of a will for peace, and yet you yourself support militant Islamist groups such as Hamas, which kills innocent Israelis with its suicide attacks.
Rohani: These groups have no other way to defend themselves against Israel's military superiority.
SPIEGEL: We would have expected a more moderate approach from you. After all, you are considered a leading voice among the so-called pragmatists, which, as a third force between the reformers and conservatives, represent the strongest faction in the new parliament.
Rohani: Every country that has maintained good relations with Israel and has constantly come up with new peace plans has learned that Israel does not abide by any of these proposals.
SPIEGEL: And your new parliament…
Rohani:... will focus most of its attention on our country's economy. Inflation and unemployment are our most pressing issues.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, reforms in social policy are also expected from this parliament. Iran's supporters in Europe, in particular, expect to see a significant boost to freedom and democracy.
Rohani: We have always told our European friends that we are not afraid of dialogue and debate. That is why we will continue the trend toward reform.
SPIEGEL: With there be a President Rohani as head of state after next spring's elections?
Rohani: It's too early to talk about that. I do not have any such plans at this time.
SPIEGEL: Hodjatolislam Rohani, we thank you for this interview.
The interview was conducted by editors Dieter Bednarz and Christian Neef
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan