SPIEGEL: Mr. Foreign Minister, you are the senior diplomat of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You represent a nation that prides itself on a cultural history stretching back more than 2,500 years. Don't you find it shameful that people are stoned to death in your country?
Manouchehr Mottaki: You come from a country that murdered millions of people during a tyrannical war, and you want to talk to me about human rights? OK, we can certainly discuss the laws in various countries and naturally we can, in a friendly atmosphere, debate the different legal principles.
SPIEGEL: It isn't a matter of legal subtleties. Stoning is a glaring violation of universal human rights. It's barbaric.
Mottaki: There is a certain framework for punishments in Islam. In Iran, we treat crimes that are punished with the death penalty with special sensitivity, because Islam assigns special value to human life. The Koran reads: "Anyone who murders any person (…), it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people."
SPIEGEL: We are not talking about murder, for which the death penalty by hanging is imposed in Iran, but about the stoning of adulterers. International human rights organizations report that there have been seven cases in the last five years alone.
Mottaki: I cannot confirm your number. But it shows that this sentence is in fact carried out very rarely.
SPIEGEL: The names of 14 other potential stoning victims are also known. This places Iran on the same level as countries like Somalia and Afghanistan when it was under Taliban rule.
Mottaki: Certain groups are making these accusations, and the West must be careful not to allow itself to be misled by people who seek to harm our reputation. Many of the things that were reported on the most recent case…
SPIEGEL: …the impending stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani …
Mottaki: … are either completely incorrect or contradictory. This file has existed for several years, and nothing was done about the case, deliberately so. The campaign is now backed by people who, with the help of a few European politicians and the media, are playing a rigged game. We will soon announce further information about what is behind this game. And when you speak of Afghanistan, why don't you mention the victims of the foreign troops? Countless people have died as a result of their military campaigns. But you challenge me on this one case and then compare us to Afghanistan.
SPIEGEL: Will you lobby for Ashtiani not to be stoned?
Mottaki: I am not a judge. Besides, this case requires further legal review. A final decision has not yet been made.
SPIEGEL: This case is only one example of Iran's contempt for human rights. Iran, which executed 400 people last year, is second from the top of the list of countries that still impose the death penalty -- behind China, with a population 20 times as large.
Mottaki: You have to understand our situation. Iran is in a region in which a lot of money is made in the drug trade. Most crimes are related to the trade. We have to take a firm stance against these crimes. Some 4,000 police officers and soldiers have died fighting dealers in our country. We sentence criminals on the basis of our laws. Criminals are treated fairly. Don't forget that we are the first line of defense against drugs. Iran also protects the young people and the population of your country. Germany is a target of the drug trade.
SPIEGEL: But it isn't just criminals who are executed. Death sentences are also passed against political prisoners.
Mottaki: No one is executed in Iran for political reasons. You have no evidence to prove the opposite.
SPIEGEL: The large wave of arrests after the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last June shows that your legal system is political. Thousands have been arrested since then. The revolutionary courts have imposed long prison sentences on people whose only offence was to oppose the president.
Mottaki: This election was a triumph. We had the highest turnout for a presidential election since the 1979 revolution. Of 40 million voters, a turnout of 85 percent, 25 million voted for Mr. Ahmadinejad. But as was already the case during Mr. Ahmadinejad's first election in 2005, the West apparently expected a different election result. We think the Western countries lack political maturity.
SPIEGEL: For the West, but also for millions of people in Iran, the most recent election was a huge fraud.
Mottaki: Manipulation is an issue in elections everywhere. Just think of the differences of opinion that elections have triggered in the United States, where a court had to step in to end a dispute over the validity of ballots. The accusations were also investigated in our country, at the urging of the opposition and our leadership. The votes were recounted. Since then, the result has been legally binding.
'We Don't Want More than What Is Our Right'
SPIEGEL: The victims of your legal system included highly respected people like Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president under the former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Mohammed Atrianfar, an adviser to Khatami's predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the well-known journalist Issa Saharkhiz, who was arrested after an interview with SPIEGEL.
Mottaki: The accused have acknowledged their mistakes.
SPIEGEL: But those were extorted confessions.
Mottaki: How can you claim that? The confessions were made in an open atmosphere, in the presence of media representatives. They were also repeated in front of other witnesses.
SPIEGEL: The charges included contact with the West. What's wrong with that?
Mottaki: There is nothing inherently wrong with it. We have had contact with the West for 150 years, and we promote cooperation. But in these cases we are talking about concrete instructions that the accused were given. A number of Western news services deliberately used these people.
SPIEGEL: Isn't the brutal crackdown by the security apparatus a sign that the Ahmadinejad government is finished, and that the only way it knows to stay in power is to use repression?
Mottaki: This government has already been in office for a year and will remain in power for another three years, that is, for the full four years for which it was elected. But what is finished is the nefarious game that was intended to distort our election victory. The Iranian people are a cultivated and intelligent people. No one can manipulate them.
SPIEGEL: Ahmadinejad came into office five years ago promising to fight mismanagement and corruption. But the situation has only worsened under his leadership. The inflation rate is estimated to be at least 25 percent, and half of Iranians live at or below the poverty level.
Mottaki: This sort of propaganda is merely meant to show that the sanctions are working. Look at our economic growth, especially in the industrial sector. Note the reduction in the inflation rate, the upturn in the market and our growing trade relations with many countries, even with countries that voted for the resolutions. The sanctions have made us immune to the global economic crisis that has hit other countries, including those in Europe. We have become self-sufficient. Iran is exporting wheat for the first time. Despite the sanctions, we have launched a satellite into space. And we have now mastered uranium enrichment.
SPIEGEL: The United States and the EU, in particular, have implemented sanctions that go beyond the United Nations Security Council resolutions. They are now affecting the important oil industry and gasoline imports. Were you surprised by the Europeans' tough approach?
Mottaki: Europe will undoubtedly suffer more under the new sanctions than we will. Europe will be the big loser in relation to this policy. We already reduced our trade relations with Europe considerably in recent years. We now produce some of the goods ourselves, and we have found new suppliers for the rest. We're not concerned about our supply of gasoline and other energy sources.
SPIEGEL: Did Turkey and China step in?
Mottaki: You don't actually expect me to tell you about the details of the agreements?
SPIEGEL: The German government was particularly adamant about setting a rigid course. Has this affected relations adversely?
Mottaki: If your government is not interested in expanding and deepening our relations, Iran doesn't have to run after it. We think it's beneath the dignity of the German people to support a certain US policy. My recommendation is for Germany (to pursue) an independent policy.
SPIEGEL: And the recommendation from Germany is that you show a willingness to compromise in the nuclear conflict.
Mottaki: I would like to direct a comment at your foreign minister, Mr. (Guido) Westerwelle, and his European counterparts: We don't want more than what is our right. We have created this right without outside assistance. And I think the best thing now would be to recognize this right, within the framework of the appropriate provisions and regulations.
'Anyone Who Attacks Iran Will Regret It'
SPIEGEL: It still isn't quite clear what Tehran wants. The president recently announced that he intends to resume negotiations on Sept. 8, after the end of Ramadan. Shortly afterwards, revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out talks with the United States. What next?
Mottaki: You have to keep these things carefully separated. We want to talk to the so-called Vienna Group about the exchange of fuel: We deliver low enriched uranium in return for 20 percent enriched fuel for our research reactor in Tehran. The negotiating partners are France, Russia, the United States, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. There are also proposals to include Turkey and Brazil in these talks.
SPIEGEL: Still, are you unwilling to show any accommodation in the real conflict over uranium enrichment?
Mottaki: We want to talk, but first the structure of the group, which consists of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, must be changed. Other countries must be added to the group. The talks can then be resumed with this new structure.
SPIEGEL: And your president also wants direct talks with the president of the United States independently of that?
Mottaki: Mr. Ahmadinejad has announced his willingness to engage in a public debate with Mr. Obama. This is quite different from official talks between the United States and Iran, which the revolutionary leader has spoken out against.
SPIEGEL: In other words, Iran is continuing to try to stall for time. You are aware that there is a substantial risk of a military strike against your nuclear plants?
Mottaki: You cannot disregard a country's rights and force it to make compromises. We are determined to defend our right. Anyone who attacks Iran will regret it.
SPIEGEL: There are growing calls in Israel for a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities -- with or without Washington's approval.
Mottaki: Israel has been talking about this for years. The Zionist regime knows exactly what fate awaits it here. The regime would be putting its own existence at stake with an attack.
SPIEGEL: You would attack Israel?
Mottaki: I have just told you what would happen.
SPIEGEL: Your first reactor, in Bushehr, is scheduled to go online on Sept. 26 after more than 30 years of construction. Do you really want to see the Israelis reduce it to rubble?
Mottaki: Do you have evidence that Bushehr will be attacked? How probable do you think such an attack is?
SPIEGEL: The likelihood is considered high.
Mottaki: We don't see this likelihood.
SPIEGEL: Do you want to ignore reality? Don't you recognize the military threat? Don't you see the worldwide protest against the impending stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani?
Mottaki: What is the point of these questions? You would be better advised to listen to us. It was our interpretations of the situation in this region that have proved to be right. We predicted that the United States would capitulate in Iraq, and that's what has happened. Instead, you are playing the human rights game. You ask me about the possible killing of a human being. But you show no sensitivity for the many, many people that are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. How long does the West intend to live with this contradiction?
SPIEGEL: In two conversations, we also asked you about your assessments of the region, and we found your responses to be noteworthy. But now the Ashtiani case has caused an international reaction. And the international community is extremely alarmed in light of Iran's nuclear activities. It seems to be one minute before midnight.
Mottaki: No. On my watch it's one o'clock, and precisely at that moment the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which was originally supposed to be built by the Germans, will be loaded with Russian fuel rods.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for this interview.