Photo Gallery: 'We Are Suspicious of the West'

Foto: Abedin Taherkenareh/ dpa

Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator 'We Have to Be Constantly on Guard'

The general secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, talks to SPIEGEL about allegations that Israel assassinated nuclear scientists in Tehran, the dangers of waging cyber warfare against Iran's nuclear facilities and the West's false expectations for upcoming negotiations in Istanbul.

SPIEGEL: Mr. General Secretary, to what extent is Iran threatened by foreign powers?

Jalili: Threatened? Are you serious? Iran is more stable than ever before. We have never been in a better political and economic position in the region. We now have more opportunities than ever.

SPIEGEL: We find this statement very surprising, in light of a number of attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a physicist, was murdered exactly a year ago. In late November, two bombs, which were meant to kill your nuclear experts Majid Shahriari and Fereidoun Abbasi, exploded almost simultaneously. All of this happened in the middle of Tehran. Hasn't a shadow war against Iran  been underway for some time?

Jalili: When the enemy sees no other option, he resorts to the methods of terror. This is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

SPIEGEL: The fact that such assassinations are even possible mainly reveals one thing, namely that the Iranian security apparatus is no longer capable of protecting the nuclear program's key experts.

Jalili: Terror exists all over the world. Only last year, we managed to destroy a group in the eastern part of the country where, with US support, it had committed bomb attacks with many civilian casualties. Compare that success with the situation of those who, for the last 10 years, have claimed to be fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. They have achieved nothing. We, on the other hand, dealt a serious blow against those enemies who killed our nuclear scientists -- we destroyed a network of Zionist spies.

SPIEGEL: Do you have any proof of this?

Jalili: Yes. We were able to arrest 10 people and we will put them on trial. We possess photos, videos and statements that prove their guilt. We have information about the locations where they were trained. All of this took place within the Zionist regime.

SPIEGEL: Are you claiming that the Israeli intelligence service Mossad recruited Iranians and trained them in Israel?

Jalili: They were trained there for the attacks. They then returned to Iran via a third country to conduct their cowardly operations. We also expect our neighboring countries to be vigilant to prevent this sort of thing. We have turned to international bodies and asked for their support. This state-sponsored terrorism must be condemned. The role of the United Nations Security Council also needs to be examined.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?

Jalili: The UN's sanction lists include the names of many of our leading scientists …

SPIEGEL: … because they hold important positions in Iran's controversial nuclear program and are doing dangerous work …

Jalili: … who later became victims of terrorist attacks. What are these names doing on such lists? Fighting science in this perfidious manner is something from the Dark Ages. We feel that the publication (of these names) is reckless. It is an invitation to terrorists to implement the Security Council's sanctions in their own way, and it strongly reminds me of fascist methods.

SPIEGEL: We don't defend targeted killings, but we also don't understand your comparisons. This has nothing to do with the Dark Ages and fascism!

Jalili: I am taking the liberty of drawing these parallels. It is our experts who were killed. I'm sure that scientists all over the world, including those in Germany, condemn these assassinations of their fellow scientists and share my outrage.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps a few Iranian nuclear scientists don't feel comfortable in their roles, either. Intelligence agencies claim that some of them are prepared to defect to the enemy camp. Both former Deputy Defense Minister Ali-Reza Asgari and the leading nuclear expert Shahram Amiri are believed to have defected.

Jalili: These are propaganda reports by the Western media. If you were right, why are our scientists being terrorized? Asgari was kidnapped. We suspect that he was the victim of a terrorist operation by the Zionist regime. We have heard that he was arrested in Israel and died there. We are paying close attention to the case.

SPIEGEL: Did Amiri also not go to the West voluntarily, in your opinion?

Jalili: He was abducted during a foreign trip and spent one year abroad. Then he returned, and now we are questioning him to find out what happened to him.

SPIEGEL: There have been reports in the international press that Amiri was arrested. If he is a free man, we would like to speak with him.

Jalili: He gave a press conference in Tehran after his return. Instead of interviewing him again, it would be better if you looked into what happened during the year Amiri spent in the United States. And you should also look into a case of terrorism against our country that has its roots in your country.

SPIEGEL: You are referring to an official with the Iranian branch of the Kurdish party PJAK who is living in Cologne?

Jalili: This group kills innocent people in Iran. And this person locates himself in Germany and assumes responsibility for these acts. Why can such people move about freely in your country? I demand that Berlin take action against this man. Or does Germany consider this group's actions to be legitimate? Is terrorism not a crime in Germany?

SPIEGEL: The man hasn't committed any attacks in Germany. If you have evidence against this official, you should present it. If you do, there will certainly be an investigation in Germany, which is a state based on the rule of law.

Jalili: We have presented plenty of evidence. We call upon your judiciary to take our accusations seriously. This is an important touchstone for our relations with Germany.

'Our Desperate Enemies Will Resort to Any Means'

SPIEGEL: We are concerned about the fate of two of our German colleagues  who were doing their jobs as reporters and tried to conduct an interview in the Iranian city of Tabriz. They were thrown in jail for a visa violation and have now been in Iranian custody for more than three months.

Jalili: The two issues are unrelated. I already mentioned the case of the PJAK terrorist to you during our last conversation  in Tehran almost a year and a half ago. There were no German prisoners at the time.

SPIEGEL: Even more than terrorism, a form of cyber warfare is threatening your nuclear program. The Stuxnet computer worm which infected Iranian systems apparently shut down a significant portion of the centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear plant. Do you know who is behind this?

Jalili: Our desperate, weakened enemies…

SPIEGEL: …by which you mean Israel and the United States…

Jalili: … will resort to any means. An enemy who kills our scientists has no qualms about infecting the Internet with worms. But our experts already warded off this attack a long time ago.

SPIEGEL: Western experts estimate that of 10,000 centrifuges, about 1,000 have been destroyed, and that your nuclear program has suffered a serious setback.

Jalili: That information doesn't come from us. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna inspects our facilities regularly. We have no reason to give numbers. You needn't worry about our centrifuges. Thankfully we have had great success with the peaceful use of nuclear technology. We are even capable of producing fuel rods now. Our nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Everything takes place under the supervision of the UN weapons inspectors from the IAEA.

SPIEGEL: Only a few days ago, its director general, Yukiya Amano, told SPIEGEL  that he expects better cooperation from Iran, and said that "we still don't have answers to all of our questions."

Jalili: We respond to the agency's questions within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which we have signed. We are fulfilling our obligations, and the inspectors are able to pursue their work without obstruction in Iran.

SPIEGEL: The UN inspectors see things differently. And don't you feel constantly threatened by a new, even more sophisticated Stuxnet-style attack, against which you would have no defenses?

Jalili: It's true that we do have to be prepared and constantly on guard.

SPIEGEL: Does that also apply to a conventional military strike? There are some people in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and among Republicans in the United States who support a massive attack on Iranian nuclear plants. Do you believe this is a realistic threat?

Jalili: No, I don't. Would the world tolerate such an attack? Would anything legitimize such an attack? Does the law of the jungle apply? One cannot take military action against a nation that chose its own social order with the Islamic Revolution. Anyone who tries nevertheless will be making a serious miscalculation. The international community must take a stance against such intentions.

SPIEGEL: But not even your Arab neighbors are taking a stance against that. They are afraid of your nuclear program. As we know from the cables published by WikiLeaks, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, for example, called for "cutting off the head of the snake" in a reference to Iran.

Jalili: That's what the Americans claim -- I think it's absurd. The fact that (US Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton is traveling from capital to capital to apologize shows just how weak the United States is. We have very good relations with our neighbors and are in a strong position. You cannot draw conclusions about our relationship with other countries from two or three documents from the US State Department. Incidentally, there are also a few things about (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel (in the documents). Do you take that just as seriously?

SPIEGEL: You've apparently studied the US embassy cables.

Jalili: Yes, we have. Very carefully, in fact.

SPIEGEL: Then you can't simply dismiss the risk of an attack on Iran. Some experts believe that there is an over 50 percent chance that Israel will carry out a missile strike by the summer.

Jalili: We believe that the days of hardware, of an attack with weapons, even with nuclear weapons, are over. They are not just illegitimate, but also cannot lead to victory. Countries will no longer allow systems and ideologies to be imposed upon them by force.

SPIEGEL: In your speeches, you repeatedly advocate peaceful competition and speak in pacifist tones. But Iran would strike back with full force if there were an attack on its territory.

Jalili: We withstood the attacks of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for eight years, even though many countries supported him. Your own courts have it on record that German companies provided him with technology for the production of poison gas. More than 100,000 of our fellow citizens became the victims of chemical weapons. Nevertheless, we never obtained such weapons of mass destruction or used them. Of course, we defended ourselves and will do so again. Our armed forces haven't exactly been furloughed.

SPIEGEL: Many believe that Iran will stop at nothing to achieve its goals. Will your fellow Shiites in the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon stand by your side and attack Israel?

Jalili: That's their business. We are grateful to anyone in the world who defends us.

'We Are Suspicious of the West'

SPIEGEL: Your country always sees itself in the role of the victim. No one would hit upon the idea of attacking Iran if your government would back down in the nuclear conflict. In a few days' time, you will meet with representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in Istanbul. What offer to resolve the conflict do you plan to present in Turkey?

Jalili: We want to talk about fundamental problems in world politics. That includes nuclear issues. Why hasn't global disarmament been achieved? Why are 200 American nuclear weapons stationed in Europe? I know that the German population is also concerned about this.

SPIEGEL: Isn't there a serious misunderstanding here? You want a general discussion about global issues, while the other side wants to talk specifically about uranium enrichment and guarantees that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.

Jalili: At our last meeting with this group in Geneva in December, we agreed on a sentence: negotiations in Istanbul on cooperation in areas of common concern. Period. Uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes is not up for discussion. It's a basic right to which we are entitled under the nonproliferation agreement, and one that we will never give up.

SPIEGEL: The West is suspicious of your claims because it feels it has been disappointed by Iran so many times before …

Jalili: … and we are suspicious of the West.

SPIEGEL: And it's carried on like this for years. There has been no significant progress. You continue to enrich uranium, in spite of all the UN sanctions, and the international community decides on measures to deter you from doing so. It's mainly the Iranian people that suffer as a result. The fifth round of international punitive measures is in the works.

Jalili: This is not a threat for us. We see it as a great opportunity to expand our economic independence. Sanctions help us achieve this goal. We are positively happy about them. For example, we had to import gasoline before the sanctions, and now we're exporting it.

SPIEGEL: You want us to believe that, at a time when the price of gasoline has just shot up?

Jalili: Yes, because this price increase is not a result of the UN resolutions, but of the targeted, comprehensive elimination of subsidies. We could afford to do this because the population supports us completely. This move, which is the biggest intervention in our economy since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, is proof of our self-confidence in political and economic matters.

SPIEGEL: Your self-assurance is breathtaking. Do you really not worry that the external and internal pressure will become overwhelming, and that the days of Iran's theocracy are numbered?

Jalili: I can only laugh in response. For the last 30 years, our enemies have predicted our demise every six months. Anyone betting on those predictions has lost. The Islamic Republic cannot be shaken by anything or anyone.

SPIEGEL: Mr. General Secretary, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath
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