Ali Akbar Velayati: Iran Strives Only For Security

The Suiss newspaper Le Temps published an interview with Ali Akbar Velayati who was foreign affairs minister for 17 years before becoming advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme guide of the Iranian Islamic revolution. The interview was available on Le Monde's website. Here is my translation and a personal comment at the end.

Le Temps: Is the present nuclear crisis gearing toward military confrontation or is there any room left for negotiations about your nuclear program ?

Ali Velayati: The problem can be solved without the present crisis because we only strive for our security, the security of the region and of the world.

Le Temps: Do you accept the idea, promoted by the IAEA chief, El Baradei, of a parallel suspension of your nuclear enrichement program and UN sanctions ?

Ali Velayati: I spoke with Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow about this offer and there are no divergences between us on this matter.

Le Temps: Concretely, do you agree on a parallel suspension ?

Ali Velayati: We accept El Baradei as our interlocutor on this dossier. Now he must present us with a written proposal that we can examine. We conducted internal consultations here in Tehran and our negotiator, Mr. Larijani, received instructions about our position.

Le Temps: You did not answer my question.

Ali Velayati: We have no a priori limits for a negotiation with Mr. El Baradei.

Le Temps: You don't even have limits on a suspension of your enrichment program ? Isn't the word 'suspension' taboo anymore in Iran ?

Ali Velayati: We have previously accepted a suspension for two and a half years but it turned out that they wanted us to even suspend enrichment destined for civil energy needs. This is totally unconceivable. This previous suspension did not help to reach an agreement. However, if we continue to decide that the best solution is a pacific solution, we should not discard
a priori any idea as unconceivable for us neither for anybody else. We have one red line: the respect of our right to nuclear energy, a right guaranteed by the Non Proliferation Treaty. We do not want to develop nuclear energy for military purposes but I must repeat that we will defend and not give up on our right to civil nuclear energy.

Le Temps: Should we believe that Iran do not want the Bomb when you want to 'wipe off the map' another UN member country ?

Ali velayati: I understand that you are alluding to Israel. Iran's position, as expressed by our supreme guide, is that all the inhabitants of this territory that we call Palestine, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, must decide democratically for the future of their country. It is up to the democratic process to solve this problem.

Le Temps: Should we believe this when Iran has just organised an international conference denying the reality of the holocaust ?

Ali Velayati: I did not participate in this conference which was not actually about holocaust denial. The conference was about holocaust facts. We can for example ask ourselves how many victims died in the holocaust without denying the genocide. May I remind you that this genocide was perpetrated by Europeans, Nazis, and that it was prepared during centuries of persecutions in Europe starting in Spain. The Coran says: ''to take the life of an innocent is to kill the entire humanity''. Jews have never been persecuted in Muslim countries. And when they fled Christian persecutions in Spain they found refuge in the Ottoman empire where they were able to fully excercise their talents.

Le Temps: Is the genocide of Jews thus a historic reality ?

Ali Velayati: Yes, but we do not accept that this reality be used to justify the opression of the Palestinians.

Le Temps: To hear your answers makes one wonder why we have been hearing all these incendiary declarations coming from Iran for the last months.

Ali Velayati: If our declarations were 'incendiary' as you say, they couldn't be more 'incendiary' than General De Gaulle's 'Vive Le Québec Libre'

Le Temps: De Gaulle never called for Canada to be 'Wiped off the map' !

Ali Velayati: No...he only called for the dismantling of the Canadian confederation.

Le Temps: Iraq is plunging into civil war. Why are you opposed to the federalism solution which is maybe going to stop the escalation ?

Ali Velayati: We never said we are against.

Le Temps: All your diplomats are saying this.

Ali Velayati: We never said this. It is up to the Iraqis to decide whether they want federalism. But again if it is their decision then let it be.

Le Temps: You have a great influence in Iraq. What do you do with this influence ? What do you propose to do there ?

Ali Velayati: We don't only have influence in Iraq. We share 1200 kms of our frontier with this friend country whose political refugees we welcomed and who are now back at the commands in Baghdad. We consider that it is essential to support their democratically elected government and provide help to rebuild the country and end the occupation.

Le Temps: But that's what George Bush wants for Iraq.

Ali Velayati: The problem is that Bush's words don't match his deeds. And even those in the US who call for a withdrawal want to maintain military bases in Iraq in order to influence the future of the region.

Le Temps: Sunni regimes in the region want the US to maintain military bases because they are anxious about your increasing influence in Iraq and the region.

Ali Velayati: The worries of the sunni regimes are unfounded. We did not elect a Chiite government in Iraq. The Iraqis did because 60% of them are chiites. As everywhere, the majority must reach out to the minorities on the basis of a mutual understanding. For this reason we have proposed a regional stability conference to tackle the problems of terrorism. We all have to face the rise of terrorism since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the event of September 11th, the greatest catastrophe of our contemporary history because its victims were innocents.

Le Temps: This will to stabilise the region is contradicted by your support for Hezbollah. This support is again worrying many sunni regimes. Isn't about time to ask Hezbollah to disarm ?

Ali Velayati: To make it easier for Israel ?

Le Temps: What are you talking about ? Israel retreated from Lebanon seven years ago and one feels that Hezbollah's obsession is to bring Israel back, as they did last summer.

Ali Velayati: Israel must withdraw from Cheb'aa farms, which are Lebanese land. There are still things to achieve before disarming Hezbollah. As long as the Lebanese government is weak, Hezbollah can act as a dissuasion force against Israel. Before anything else, the Lebanese government must be empowered.

*(My Comment) Mr. Velayati knows his History. The reference to 'Vive le Québec Libre' gives us a clearer picture of Iran's regional ambitions. First, at the height of the separatist movement in Québec, Québecers felt alone and isolated in their struggle and De Gaulle's declaration gave them hope and confort. Second, Québecers turned to France because of Historic ties and because they always perceived France as their mother country and a protective figure while being resentful of this country who abandoned them to the English coloniser. Third, Québecers separatism meant, above all, to safeguard the French language which they felt threatened of extinction as in the US. Clearly, and in my opinion, exhausted at home, the Iranian Islamic revolution is seeking a second life by transforming its internal image from the outside; giving to millions of Arab Muslims, hope, protection and breaking their isolation by showing its solidarity.
In 1967 De Gaulle was answering a distress call from Québecers as much as he was trying to ease France's social distress at the time. This was five years after Algeria acquired its independance from France prompting a wave of discontent across France directed at De Gaulle's contribution to the final act of the Algerian independance, and just one year before this discontent became a major factor leading to the May 68 social unrest which was again directed against De Gaulle.
I think what we are experiencing in the Arab world and the Middle East now is a similar situation. There is distress on both sides. There is distress among ordinary Arab and Muslim citizens because of the US and Israel's wars on the Palestinians and Arab and Muslim countries and because of their worldwide isolation, and there is discontent in Iran because the islamic revolution did not achieve the optimal conditions for peace and economic prosperity the Iranians have been looking for and have become desperate of ever achieving under this revolution. Foreign interference, and especially armed foreign interference will make things worse for both Arabs and Iranians and will harden positions around national and ethnic identities. The way US foreign policy is conducted in the ME is stupid or is intended to harm the aspirations of the people of the ME for democracy, development and progress. It is driving the ME into the abyss.


naj said...

Thank you Sophia for the translation.
I would love to link to this post in my blog. May I?

Sophia said...

Sure Naj. Go ahead. These are news you won't read in the NYT. Neither you would see such an agressive questioning of a high ranking official by journalists in the West.
It was refreshing to read also velayati's answers. There are no politicians of this stature, intelligence and culture in the West.

Sophia said...

It took me three hours to translate. I wanted the translation to be as accurate as possible. There are many answers where one can read between the lines and how can you render in a translation what is between the lines ?

pierre said...

at of you to translate this interview. I just read the original at Le Monde's site; too bad Le Temps has already put it behind its archives' firewall. I wonder if it was longer. The interviewer is no dummy. Nor is Velayati, who is Khamenei's Rove of sorts. He sounds like a more interesting prospective president than Ahmanidejad. I'll probably steal this too.

Regarding Afghanistan and the comment you left at the Notebooks: Bush just annmounced that he is extending the tours of duty of 3200 troops in Afghanistan, with total troop levels at 27,000, highest since 2001. That Canadian senate report looks more and more prophetic. And naturally ignored this side of the border. I'm constantly amazed at the blackout that reigns here over the Canadian press and Canadian politics.

Behemoth101 said...

Now we're in my territory. "Vive le Quebec libre" was a seminal moment - many think it kickstarted la revolution tranquille and was in fact an act of terrorism... certainly explains why de Gaulle didn't stick around for the world fair...

I'll just say the reporter is right to avoid conflating that lightning rod with what's going on right now in Iran. For one, the contexts are all wrong. The cold war was the backdrop for the first event. The war on terrorism, which took us through a socio-cultural wormhole, is a different set of circumstances with different players.

Sophia, lets discuss Quebec sometime.

Sophia said...

No problem. I think it will have a larger readership on your blog. I don't mind you stealing things on this blog. They are not written only for myself, they are for the whole community.

Stephanie said...

it's striking how evasive and disingenuous this politician is.

a real investigative reporter would have asked WHY Iran needs nuclear power when it is the leading producer of Oil?

does any one really believe that Iran's nuclear ambition is exclusively non-military use? Not even you can believe that, right?

Sophia said...

Any time. I do not bring up often issues related to Quebec because I have been struggling with some of the apsects of 'la révolution tranquille' that I don't like, even so many years after my immigration to this province.

naj said...

Yes I know the problem of translation. Somehow, it is much easier to translate from Persian to French than it is to translate to English. When I was a novice learner in both, I used to try to translate my poems and they always ended up being French (and discarded of course, because ...uhmm, French sounded better, but my grammar and spelling, well ... you know!)

Stephanie is a philosophy student or what?!!!!! (yeah I know Sophie, you just let her through to entertain!)

Behem, I think Velayati's refering to de Gaulle was just to draw attention to the fact that although VLQL kick started PLQ, De Gaulle was never accused of supporting terrorism or being a terrorist himself.

Where is Pierre's blog? :)

Wolfie said...

Thank you so much for your hard work translating this Sophia, it made interesting reading. Also from a source that I feel I can trust has attended to its accuracy.

Sophia said...

Naj, Pierre's blog is in my permanent links; Pierre Tristam's Candide's Notebooks. Pierre is a talented editorialist, journalist, American Lebanese writer at the Daytona Beach news and I encourage you to visit his blog.

Sophia said...


You are welcome. You worry me posting comments so late. Either you are outside the country or if you are not, it must be around 3 in the morning in the UK. Burning the midnight oil ? There still one possibility left: the time zone on my blog is not correct.

Take care


Wolfie said...

You are very observant Sophia. Unfortunately I've been suffering from insomnia lately, that was the second time this week, but no need to worry as I'm sure I'll get over it and I already have my Spanish wife to do more than enough worrying for both of us.

I've always suffered from it but it has lessened with age. However it does have its advantages as it gives one considerable reading time coupled with the stamina to take on some of the driest or heavyweight of tomes.

Sophia said...

There is a fascinating book on my reading list that you might like to read. It is on the history of sleep. The author argues, on the basis of a careful review of narratives of sleep during the history of humanity, that an uninterrupted night of sleep is a modern invention.
Roger Ekirch. “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past”

N. said...

I thought Fukuyama may be yoru cup of tea :)

Sophia said...


Well Fukuyama wasn't my cup of tea for a long time. But a man who recognises that he was duped (to support the war in Iraq and to join the neocons) and changes directions is a rational man.
Read an interview with him in Le Monde posted in my permanent selection at the end of my links.

Behemoth101 said...

I am so torn with Fukuyama. At the height of my conservatism I was an avid follower of his annotations of Lipset's Modernization Theory. It really messed me up when he and my family were for the war in Iraq. That, to the younger and stupider me, seemed to be incontrovertible evidence that the adventure would be fruitful.

About the time that I realized I had been duped, he did too. The difference is he is about 30 decades my senior.

Then again, having met Bush myself in person, I can attest to the fact that he is really quite a charmer. I mean, hell, he even recalled my name a year after we met!

Sophia said...


I think many people like Fukuyama believed in the civilising mission of the war on Iraq. L'enfer est pav. de bonnes intentions. Fukuyama, like every honest intellectual, had recognised his error publicly and that makes him a real intellectual for me, even if I disagree with his views.

So you met Bush in person, of course he is from where you live but I can tell you that there is a pathological personality trait in which people are very charming and seductive but real psychopaths...

Since March 29th 2006