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“Bush Wants War; We Don’t …”

Le Nouvel Observateur. Are we on the verge of war or is negotiation still possible over your nuclear program?

Manouchehr Mottaki. I am a career diplomat. Consequently, I must, as a matter of principle, answer you: no; we are not on the verge of a war. In my opinion, diplomacy has not been exhausted. But we are very worried about this escalation towards war that is an artifact of our interlocutors and would entail a catastrophe comparable to that of Iraq today. Don't forget that the Baker-Hamilton report (1) reflected but a small part of the problems the United States has encountered in Iraq. Day after day, the Americans want to organize discussions, notably with Iran, to try and resolve that crisis. They want to share the Iraqi burden. They are so weak on the ground today that they negotiate with all kinds of terrorists, former Baathists, or Salafists. Those who thought themselves to be the most powerful people on the planet are now soliciting their enemies' help.

President Ahmadinejad is convinced of the necessity of helping the Americans get out of this new quagmire. So that Bush does not repeat the strategic mistake of intervention in Iraq, he proposed a televised public debate on the nuclear question. Logic can resolve the current crisis. But the Americans distance themselves ever further from logic, in spite of the fact that they're no longer up to inflicting a war with a front that would stretch from China to Israel. Bush received a warning during the last elections. He no longer has the power to inflict a new burden on the American people. But although there exist some wise men within the heart of the American administration, others, like Dick Cheney, must fulfill the commitments they've made to their countries' weapons manufacturers. They want to double the billions of dollars they've already acquired in the course of the crises provoked in the region. And the electoral calendar hurries them along.

How do you react to American sanctions and to the threat of European sanctions?

M. Mottaki. As in the past, these sanctions are doomed to fail. At the beginning of 1990, the Americans imposed unilateral sanctions on oil investments. The first to violate those sanctions were the French. The company Total replaced the American companies and the French nullified the impact of the sanctions imposed on Iran. Now, imagine that several European countries join in on the American sanctions. Then who will replace Total? Do you believe that the Russians, who would love to dominate the European market, would miss that opportunity? And, imagining that Gazprom should replace Total in Iran, would that be a sufficient reason for France to cease its imports from Russia? In today's world, it's each country's own self-interest that dominates.

Iran is approaching the threshold of 3,000 centrifuges that could rather quickly allow the production of enough fissile material for the manufacture of a nuclear bomb. For the international community, the halting of enrichment is a prerequisite to all discussion. Are you ready to accept the consequences of the pursuit of your nuclear program?

M. Mottaki. You treat this question with the same mistaken attitude as that of the French Defense Minister in Abu Dhabi. By expressing doubts about the civilian character of the Iranian nuclear program, by contesting the statements of Mohamed ElBaradei, he expressed an irresponsible position. It is surprising that people keep on repeating that it is up to international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency to settle disputes, all the while putting their statements into question! Is that a way to influence the IAEA before it submits its report? It's as though I had decided to express myself in the place of the French unions about the strikes taking place in Paris. If he has information, your Defense Minister has only to make it available to the Agency.

But Iran does not dispute the fact of having arrived at the threshold of 3,000 centrifuges?

M. Mottaki. We acknowledge it; it's true. We're working to endow ourselves with nuclear energy capability, as the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) authorizes us to do. Does the French Defense Minister, perhaps inspired by Jules Verne, desire to predict the future for us? At the Iranian Embassy in Geneva, where I dined with ambassadors, the conversation concerned disarmament and the nuclear question and one of my guests asked me about Iran's hidden intentions. I asked him whether he had a machine to test the veracity of intentions. We, for our part, are equally mistrustful of Westerners' goals. And we have reason to be. But in international issues, one cannot depend upon daydreams or premonitions. We are on the point - it is true - of obtaining 3,000 centrifuges. But we honor the IAEA's controls in the utilization we are making of our nuclear capacities in different civilian domains. We have no intention of departing from the NPT framework. In reality, the worries expressed by George Bush proceed fom a state of mind particular to those who strive to ignite the flame of conflict. For Americans themselves know we are not after a nuclear weapon. Just like Vladimir Putin, who, during his last visit to Tehran, declared to President Ahmadinejad that he was convinced Iran did not want the bomb. In fact, the Americans are seeking to neutralize diplomatic efforts and gain time. During my last visit to New York, the Foreign Affairs Minister of a Western country told me that he possessed documents that showed that Iran was helping the Taliban in Afghanistan. I asked him whether those documents were as authentic as the ones Colin Powell detailed before the UN on the eve of the Iraq war that had motivated the support of my interlocutor's country for the American intervention. He told me he understood my argument. It is clear that the Iraqi precedent will make the Americans' task of convincing the international community of the legitimacy of a war against Iran more difficult.

Your conviction, therefore, is that George Bush wants war and that he'll choose any pretext whatsoever, like the nuclear program or Iran's aid to the Taliban or to Iraqi terrorists to start it?

M. Mottaki. Precisely. I add that George Bush does not gauge the consequences of this risky war of choice.

Does the resignation of Iranian nuclear issues negotiator Ali Larijani, who has been replaced by an intimate of President Ahmadinejad, mean that the war party partisans in Iran have won?

M. Mottaki. Ali Larijani has always defended not only the position of President Ahmadinejad, but that of the Iranian people as a whole. Larijani himself, the Supreme Guide, the Assembly, and all the organs of decision defend Iran's inalienable right to nuclear technology. A right that all states must acknowledge. So if you are asking me whether it's now the president who is in charge of the whole nuclear issue, I answer you that it's the Iranian people as a whole that sees to defending its rights. Iran is not a country where an individual governs alone. We strive to distance ourselves from the dictatorship that we knew under the Shah.

Are there differences between the president and the Supreme Guide about the way the nuclear negotiations should be conducted and about who ultimately decides?

M. Mottaki. There are consultations between the decision making bodies at the very highest levels. Everyone agrees on the objective. But to achieve it, there are several tactics. One consists of restoring our interlocutors' confidence. That's why, for example, we totally suspended the enrichment of our uranium for two years. But that restoration of confidence must not be a one-way street. Our adversaries must also reassure us.

What pledges of your good faith are you prepared to give the international community today?

M. Mottaki. What's new is that we are ready to cooperate with any country that does not contest our rights to acquire nuclear competence within the legal framework of the NPT. We want to fulfill our duties vis-à-vis the IAEA as long as people respect our rights. If I wanted to describe this moment in history, I would tell you the situation reminds me of 1815, when the outrageousness of Napoleon's ambitions provoked a consensus of European nations against him. The war, which set Europe ablaze and provoked catastrophes like the destruction of Moscow, ended with the rout of Waterloo. Napoleon, like the Americans in Iraq, caused the deaths of thousands of soldiers in his debacle. The taxes Americans pay today finance the decline of the American Empire. It is imperative that the concert of nations replaces American unilateralism.

(1) Written in 2006 by a group of American experts, this report drew up a damning picture of the situation in Iraq and advised the Bush administration notably to begin discussions with Iran and Syria.

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Manouchehr Mottaki, 54 years old, was named to head the Iranian diplomatic effort by President Ahmadinejad in 2005. Previously, he was most notably ambassador to Turkey and Japan, then an advisor to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

(Translation: Leslie Thatcher ) .

Sara Daniel

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About Sara Daniel

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Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.
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