Velayati on Iran, the Nuclear Row, Iraq, Lebanon, and the ME

Ali Akbar Velayati has served for almost 17 years as foreign affairs minister in the successive governments of the Iranian Islamic revolution and became, 10 years ago, special advisor on foreign affairs for the supreme guide of the revolution, Ali Khamenei. He is very much in the spotlight since the recent escalation opposing the US and Israel to Iran on the development of Iran's nuclear capacity for civil purposes, as Iranians insist and repeat (within the Non Prolifeartion treaty) while the US and Israel are maintaining that Iran's nuclear activity is not for civil purposes. However, as I mentioned before, Velayati's presence is not felt in the anglo press or the press 'corps' of the countries advocating a war against Iran; US and UK.

I took it upon myself, with some fellow bloggers, Naj, Homeyra, Loopy, and others, to fill in the void, as much as possible, by translating the interviews from the Francophone press and posting some basic knowledge on Iran and its two recent revolutions. Indeed the Islamic revolution is called as such because it was encouraged by the US over another revolution, the leftist secularist revolution that fought the Shah in an alliance with Islamists to find itself overwhelmed by the Us hostility from the outside and the Islamists from the inside.

This is the latest interview with Velayati published by le Monde (february 21st, 2007, link at the end) and it was made while the UN security council was considering another resolution for sanctions against Iran. I have updated with some comments at the end.

In this interview, Velayati confirms Iran's willingness for open and non conditional negotiations while suggesting that the international community should not be intimidated by the agressive slogans of some leaders (in the context it must be understood that he is alluding at the same time to Bush and Ahmadi-Nejad. Read what follows). He maintains that only the supreme guide of the revolution has the last word in all matters. He also lamented the absence of an active role for European countries in the Middle East, especially France. Velayati seemed to suggest that this role is much needed to counter the US unilateralism in the ME.

Le Monde: What was Ali Larijani's (Iranian negotiator)message when he met on February 20th the IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei ?

Velayati: The message is we want to pursue negotiations. There is no disagreement that cannot be resolved by discussions . At the same time, one cannot dictate a solution in advance of any negotiation. This dossier has two red lines: the first is the fundamental right of Iran to nuclear technology for civil purposes given by the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the other is the guarantee that Iran must give on the absence of any plan for military escalation by developing nuclear energy. Between these two lines everything is possible in negotiations or discussions about our nuclear program.

Le Monde: Even a temporary suspension of Uranium enrichment ?

Velayati: M. Larijani is open to all propositions without exclusion. We have already suspended enrichment during two years and a half but this suspension didn't solve the problem. There are also other ideas we must not discard like the one we came with to create an international consortium on Uranium enrichment on the Iranian soil managed by Europeans and open to IAEA control (Russia has defended this idea in the previous crisis in the Iranian nuclear row). france has the capacity to form such a consortium. We have a history of nuclear collaboration and mutual trust with France who, in the past, had the project for a nuclear reactor for civil purposes at Darakhoin near Ahwaz in the 70s. We are and still shareholders in Eurodif. All this might facilitate the resuming of the discussions with France on our civil nuclear projects and adress the concerns of other countries on our nuclear capacity. The moment is suitable for such a move.

You know Iran is four times larger than Iraq and is three times more populated with a higher degree of mobilisation and a ready army. I don't see them risking war against us in these conditions.

Le Monde: How do you analyse French policies toward what is going on in Lebanon ? (to my readers, France is much more close to the US policies when it comes to Lebanon)

Velayati: France is wasting the political and culutral investments it had in this country. It threw itself in the hole digged by the US. If Paris does not want to lose its credit in Lebanon, it must abstain from taking sides with a small fraction of the population. In addition, France has withdrawn its support to an old time ally, general Michel Aoun, the chief of the Free Patriotic Movement, which is christian (allied to Hezbollah and Amal in their will to enlarge the present US backed Sanyura government to all sects and make it more representative of Lebanese, you can read their statement by clicking on the front page banner on this blog)

Le Monde: Jacques Chirac had previously thought od sending an envoy to tehran to discuss the situation in Lebanon. What do you think of this ?

Velayati: This is an excellent idea. There is a common interest to Iran and France in joining efforts to defend Lebanon. Talks between france and Iran could not only be beneficial to Lebanon but to all the ME and the Gulf regions. As we are speaking, the US is the only powerbroker in the ME and this unilaterlaism, which is denounced also by president Putin, is Bad. We aknowledge with much regret that Europe is absent from this scene, it does not play any role in the region and I deplore this fact. A European presence in which france plays a major role can potentailly reequilibrates the situation in the ME.

Le Monde: M. Chirac refuses to talk to Syria. What is your opinion ?

Velayati: Frankly, I must admit that France's position toward Syria is extreme and it is counterproductive to France. Other countries are profiting from this hostility. However Iran can play a role in future medations between the two countries.

Le Monde: Wars in Afghanistan, Irak and Lebanon have reinforced your central role in the region. Iran promotes stability but at the same time helps moveents like Hezbollah and Moqtada Sadr in Irak. The US is accusing Iran of arming the insurgents in Iraq. Why don't you make a move toward calming the situation by withdrawing your financial support for Hezbollah for example ?

Velayati: Certainly not ! It is not by abandoning Shi'a and Hezbollah in their fight against Israël that we are going to be useful in the region. As for the rest, Iran needs stability at its frontiers. Do you believe that the coalition forces in Afghanistan could have defeated the Talibans without our support ? In Iraq, we support the Maliki government and we work toward peace. There are no insurgents in Iraq, there are only resistants to the occupation

Interview by Marie-Claude Decamps

My Comments: Between the previous interview, published initially by Le Temps on February 14th, and this one which appeared on February 21st, Iran's position has evolved for the worse. What happened in one week ? A second resolution against Iran is being submitted by the US to the countries of the UN security council.

While Velayati is maintaining the possibility for open negotiations as well as the two red lines drawn by Iran for these negotiations, Iran's right to civil nuclear energy and its duty to account for its nuclear activity within international standards and IAEA rules, he seems to be more on the offensive both on the diplomatic and the psychological fronts. This attitude can be seen in the following elements:

-When he suggests that a war against Iran is unlike the war against Iraq because of the internal mobilisation, the size of both the country and the people, when compared to Iraq, as well as the state of readiness of the Iranian army;

-When he reminds us that Iran was instrumental in the victory against the talibans in 2001;

-When he reminds us of Iran's influence in the ME notably on regimes and political groups in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, making a war against Iran a risk for the region;

-When he suggests a bigger role for France and Europe in general in the development of Iran's civil nuclear energy. Iran is looking for a partner for dialogue because it knows that the US is not interested in dialogue;

- When he suggests that Iran's influence in the region be used to promote peace and not war as when he mentions the mediation role Iran can play between France and Syria regarding the crisis in Lebanon. Clearly, Mr. Velayati has gone from being defensive in the first interview to offensive. What changed in one week is not only the fact that a second more hostile resolution is being prepared against Iran but that this resolution is being prepared on the sole basis that Iran is pursuing Uranium enrichment, something the IAEA was able to check, even though this enrichment is still, at this stage of the negotiations, at a non threatening level, for civil purposes. The attitude of the US is purely unacceptable because while Iran is poised for dialogue, compromise and open to control of its nuclear activity, the other side wants it to surrender this activity even though it is done within a legal framework, for civil purposes and within the NPT rules. This is why Velayati says that one cannot just set up the results for any negotiations before they actually take place. Indeed the US is asking that Iran stops any enrichment of Uranium in order to start negotiations while the halt to the Uranium enrichment should be the result of the negotiations !

What will happen next is that severe sanctions, if voted by the UN security council, will stop dialogue and Iran will be able to pursue its nuclear program outside international rules. This catastrophic scenario had already been played in North Korea where it yielded catastrophic results. One has to understand that we are here more close to the north Korea case than to Iraq. the US does not have the means going to war against Iran, and I really hope the neocons know that. The only thing that the US will be able to implement are sanctions and verbal escalation making, once again, the world less safe, more agressive and less productive for economies, except those sponsored by Cheney, Bush and Israel, arms trades and any other war related economy...

The previous interview of Velayati in le Temps

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