Transcript: Interview With Iran's Foreign Minister

Note: Throughout the interview, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki spoke through a translator, except where noted.

Steve Inskeep: I would like to begin by asking about the nuclear facility that is under construction at Qom. Would you explain for us, simply, what are you building there?

Manouchehr Mottaki (through translator): According to the law approved by the parliament, the government has to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity for the country in order to meet domestic requirements. It means that Iran needs to build at least 10 nuclear power plants. In order to generate the fuel needed for these power plants, we need to build these facilities in the country. And fortunately, over the past years, Iran has succeeded in being self-sufficient for producing the nuclear fuel.

Inskeep: If I may interrupt, you have stated, I understand, that this is for civilian purposes to develop fuel for as many as 10 nuclear power plants, but, if I'm not mistaken, Iranian officials themselves have said that in order to enrich uranium for even one or two power plants, you would need 50,000 centrifuges, and it's my understanding that at this site, there is a plan for only 3,000 — not nearly enough to build fuel for a civilian power plant but enough to create fuel for an atomic weapon. Am I mistaken about that?

Mottaki: The numbers about 3,000 centrifuges is not correct. We have taken higher steps in that respect — an issue that had been announced by the officials in Iran's Atomic Energy Organization —

Inskeep: How many centrifuges are you going to build then, at that specific facility at Qom?

Mottaki: I have no technical expertise to explain the exact situation. But I am sure that that is going to be done within the framework of our requirements.

Inskeep: But you've said 3,000 is wrong. What is the right number?

Mottaki: I think the last figures — the officials in the Atomic Energy Organization know about the last figures. Some time ago, they talk about 7,000 centrifuges, something about 7,000 centrifuges.

Inskeep: That still sounds, if I don't misunderstand this issue, a little low for creating 10 civilian nuclear power plants.

Mottaki: I think we should focus or pay attention to the trends; we cannot count them one by one.

Inskeep: Meaning that you have a number of facilities around the country at which you are working at once?

Mottaki: No, I don't mean that. I am just referring to the number of centrifuges.

Inskeep: I'd like to ask another question if I might, Mr. Foreign Minister. If this is for civilian power, why is it being constructed on a Revolutionary Guard base, a military base?

Mottaki: One of our focuses is [unintelligible] geographical positions for security purposes. In the past two years, we have been facing threats on the part of some countries. The former U.S. administration always threatened Iran. Fortunately, in the new administration, we have not held any threats. And in the past few months, the Zionist regime repeated its threats against Iran. Although they know very well that if they do that, they would regret. But, I am not going to confirm or endorse the news that this site has been constructed on a military site. But, surely, it is in a place where security can be maintained.

Inskeep: Do you understand why well-meaning people outside of Iran would be concerned to hear that this is on a military site?

Mottaki: We hope that the impartial media would remain committed to correct this situation and to address these negative propaganda campaigns. Iran is a committed member of the agency and the NPT. And in the past 40 years, we have cooperated with the agency beyond our obligations, and we also believe that there should be a balance between rights and obligations. More than 20 reports presented by the agency indicate that Iran has had no diversion to weaponry. So within all the people or organizations which are seeking the truth can understand this situation, based on the information of the agency and even the information provided by the U.S. information or intelligence society released last year. One who is asleep, you can wake him up even by knocking on the door. But one who pretends to be asleep, whatever you do, he's not going to wake up.

Inskeep: Mr. Foreign Minister, because you mentioned the record of the International Atomic Energy Agency, I have to remind you that the IAEA has asked Iran questions that the agency says have not been answered. The IAEA says that Iran is following outdated regulations that have been updated, and Iran has not accepted the regulations, and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has said, "When they argue that their nuclear facilities are genuinely for peace purposes, the burden of proof is on their side." Do you accept that the burden of proof is on Iran to show that your purposes are peaceful?

Mottaki: Based on the new [unintelligible] we started a new period of cooperation — a new trend of cooperation with the agency. We ask that the agency to ask any questions they wish to ask. They raised a series of questions in six or seven parts and we responded to all questions. And then the agency was in a position to declare about Iran's transparency in its nuclear program at that time and its peacefulness. But, suddenly, the former administration of the U.S. provided some new documents and they pressed the agency not to make such an announcement. But we continue our cooperation with the IAEA, and these cooperations are based on the — our obligations and based on the international regulations.

Inskeep: You suggest that there was some pressure or plotting against you at the United Nations, but the person expressing concern here is Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations. He is not an American. He is not a Westerner. He's a South Korean, and he's representing the world body, which include some key allies of Iran.

Mottaki: I just — I was just talking about the IAEA. I said nothing about him.

Inskeep: I ask that because the IAEA is the nuclear watchdog under the auspices of the United Nations, am I mistaken?

Mottaki: Yes, we think that the secretary-general of the United Nations must express his views or opinions on the basis of the laws, regulations, rights and obligations of member states. Within this framework, we have no problem with the United Nations. We carry out our obligations within the framework of the laws and regulations.

Inskeep: Ban Ki-moon is saying the burden of proof is on your side. Do you accept that burden?

Mottaki: We carry out our obligations within the framework of the laws and regulations.

Inskeep: Does that mean that you accept the burden of proving that Iran is behaving peacefully?

Mottaki: That is a question that might be discussed among members of the United Nations. On a legal framework, the burden of proof usually remains on the claimant. But the way it is defined within framework we should refer to the laws and regulations existing in the [unintelligible] and IAEA. Certainly, we cannot put ourselves in an endless marathon.

Inskeep: Foreign Minister, I would like to ask about the talks that are beginning in Geneva about which you have said negotiations must be a two-way street. Granting that you cannot negotiate at all here, now, would you give us an idea how that street might work? What is something that might be traded here between nations to reach or at least get closer to an accommodation?

Translator: Before answering the question I should say that the minister has only four minutes.

Mottaki (through translator): By presenting the proposed package, we have shown our seriousness to enter into a serious discussion. And we have a constructive approach for these talks, and we expect the same constructive political approach from the other side. And we hope that we are going to engage in these negotiations constructively. Some European ministers told me that there shouldn't be, of course, high expectations, but we must plan long-term talks between the parties. We are ready to form committees for the issues we have raised in the proposed package. And I think based on the rights and obligations, we can reach very conclusive, very good results within constructive negotiations. Some people are very optimistic; some of them are pessimists. We are trying to be optimistic — to be realistic. Realistic. Maybe it is going to be a balance between rights and obligations.

Inskeep: Foreign Minister, before I ask my last question, I would like to say you have been very generous with your time. This question is a long one; I'll say it in a couple of parts. The United States, as you know, has acknowledged that its image around the world suffered terribly because of revelations of the mistreatment and torture of prisoners in American custody in recent years. In Iran, as you know, even high officials have acknowledged mistreatment of and torture of prisoners after the disputed presidential election in June. What has that done to Iran's image abroad, which I am sure is a concern of yours as foreign minister?

Mottaki: Thank you for the important question. Yes, the image of the United States must be corrected in the world, but it's not only about Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo prisons. That is also about the U.S. overall policies in the world, particularly following the World War II —

Inskeep: What about Iran's image —

Mottaki: And during the Cold War — and during, especially during the Cold War. And in this respect, we believe that President Obama can be regarded as an opportunity for Americans. And we hope people inside and outside the United States would help to realize the slogans of the new U.S. administration.

Inskeep: But what do you think has happened to Iran's image abroad because of Iran's torture and mistreatment?

Mottaki (speaking in English himself): Yeah, yeah, I'm coming to that point.

Inskeep: Oh, OK, OK, please, go ahead. OK.

Mottaki (through translator): We had a very good presidential election in Iran, and it has the highest election turnout in the past 30 years — 85 percent participation of the people. Like any election, we have the loser and winner. Those who lost the election suspected that, or believed that, their rights have not been respected or there are certain problems in the election process. That was their right to raise the issue and the government had to respond, and the government has provided the response. And the majority of the protesters were convinced by the answers given by the government. Like any other society, there are people who always seek to create riots and they have been faced with civil norms. Some people were arrested. The innocent were released. But those who committed certain offenses, for example, toward the public property or private property, they should be — should have been tried. And, naturally, according to the law, if certain officials or authorities also committed violations, they would also be tried in accordance with the domestic law.

Inskeep: Forgive me, Foreign Minister, I know your time is short.

Translator: Yes.

Inskeep: I simply would like to know —

Translator: Minister is going. Minister is going.

Mottaki (speaking English): OK, yes.

Inskeep: What has the damage been to Iran's image abroad as you see it?

Mottaki (through translator): The Western media, especially some European ones, tried to distort the realities and undermined our glorious presidential elections, but as you now know, the sun would never, could never be hidden under the clouds. And you can see the sun very well. And you can see that from New York or Washington. The people in Iran are dynamic as ever. They are satisfied, and they believe in their government and their political system. And we hope we would have another opportunity to talk more.

Inskeep: Foreign Minister Mottaki, thank you very much for taking the time.

Mottaki (speaking English): Thank you. Bye-bye.

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