SPIEGEL Interview with Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator: 'We Welcome New Sanctions'

Saeed Jalili, general secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the country's chief nuclear negotiator, talks to SPIEGEL about Iran's nuclear program, the prospects for this week's talks in Geneva and why Iran is not afraid of new sanctions.

Saeed Jalili: "We have more in common on international matters than some people think." Zoom
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Saeed Jalili: "We have more in common on international matters than some people think."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Jalili, the West is expecting compromise from Tehran on the nuclear issue. What offers of compromise will you be bringing to the talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, which begin in Switzerland on Oct. 1?

Saeed Jalili: In the name of God the merciful, let me clarify this -- the problem of nuclear weapons is a concern shared by all humanity. We have drawn up a position paper for the talks, which also addresses the nuclear issue.

SPIEGEL: But only in passing, in just part of one sentence out of a total of five pages.

Jalili: In order to make true progress, however, we need to agree on principles of justice, democracy and multilateralism. I believe we have more in common on international matters than some people think, for example in the fight against terrorism, like in Afghanistan. It would certainly have made more sense if NATO had sent tractors there instead of tanks. Terrorists cannot be defeated simply through the use of ever-increasing force. The best chance of winning the war against terror is through civilian reconstruction aid.

SPIEGEL: Iran and the West can agree on the fact that the Taliban are their common enemy. But while you see the Palestinian group Hamas as a legitimate liberation movement, the United States and Europe consider it a terrorist organization.

Jalili: You see, this is precisely why we need to sit down together and agree on common definitions.

SPIEGEL: How would that work?

Jalili: On some points of contention, we will be able to reach an agreement or come closer together in our positions. With others, it probably won't be possible.

SPIEGEL: In your position paper, you call for a "reorganization of the United Nations" and "collective management for environmental matters." With all due respect, that's not what this is all about -- it's about Iran's potential nuclear bomb.

Jalili: You're setting the wrong priorities. It is not us who are the danger, but rather the other powers which have already possessed nuclear weapons for a long time. We want all nuclear powers to disarm, as they called for in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We're calling for an "Axis of Negotiations"…

SPIEGEL: … a clear allusion to former US President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil," which Bush considered Iran to be part of, together with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But, if you'll pardon our saying so, you've been talking about everything but Iran's nuclear program.

Jalili: But how do the fears in relation to the program arise? Who creates this atmosphere? The media in the US and Europe are irresponsibly playing on people's fears. Take the alleged threat of Iranian missiles, for example. For years, Washington wanted to set up a missile shield in Eastern Europe. Now President Barack Obama has determined that the threat doesn't exist, and he's abandoned the missile shield plan…

SPIEGEL: …but instead he has announced a mobile missile defense system as an alternative.

Jalili: In any case, Europeans have seen a problem vanish into thin air overnight.

SPIEGEL: President Obama has showed a willingness to make concessions, with his speech to mark the Iranian New Year and by offering to negotiate without preconditions. Do you not see the difference between Bush and Obama?

Jalili: We see a change, but no improvement in America's position.

SPIEGEL: The Iranian side, for its part, has not even made symbolic gestures. The fact is that the UN Security Council has imposed multiple sanctions on Tehran. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna has complained of a lack of cooperation from your side and it continues to have considerable doubts that your nuclear program is really only for civilian purposes. Do you mean to ignore all of that?

Jalili: Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the IAEA, has expressed in his latest report for the umpteenth time that there is no proof of an Iranian military nuclear program. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we have not only responsibilities, but also rights. And that includes uranium enrichment.

SPIEGEL: Most of the international community believes Iran forfeited that right by keeping quiet about the existence of the Natanz nuclear facility and buying centrifuges on the black market.

Jalili: What do you mean by the international community? Do the 120 countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, which have defended Iran's rights, not belong to the international community?

SPIEGEL: But you can't claim that the IAEA is satisfied with Iran's cooperation. ElBaradei has just reminded Tehran again that it needs to intensify its efforts toward more transparency. Those are your responsibilities.

Jalili: What is correct is that we possess the right to enrich uranium, and we will never give up that right. The use of nuclear energy must be guaranteed for everyone. No one should possess nuclear weapons. The world needs to move toward this kind of disarmament, Washington too. Europe should not be a storage facility for nuclear warheads. I don't understand why Europe is worried about a few centrifuges in Iran and not about the nuclear weapons stored in Europe.

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