Iran Officials Give Measured Responses on Iraq
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.
Iran and Iraq. Those two countries and the way they're intertwined are the big foreign policy concerns of the Bush administration.
CHADWICK: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster is just back from Iran.
Mike, welcome back to NPR West.
MIKE SHUSTER: Thanks, Alex.
CHADWICK: I've been wanting to talk to you since I heard your report last week on MORNING EDITION about a conversation - an interview, really, you had with the foreign minister of Iran. This is while you were in Tehran. And you are asking him about Iran's views on American withdrawal from Iraq. I was surprised by what you reported.
SHUSTER: I was surprised by what we heard, because I was with several other journalists from Europe, and the first question was, what should the United States do in Iraq? And the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, could very well have said, and other Iranian leaders have said this, the United States should get out. The United States should withdraw as soon as possible. But he didn't say that. He said he was aware that there was a debate in the United States and that the American public would make a rational decision on what to do, and that the people of the Middle East were awaiting a rational decision.
And then we pressed him again - what does that mean? What do you think the United States should do? And he wouldn't say specifically. What was most interesting is that he did not call for a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. And it led me and the other journalists I was with to wonder whether, in fact, at least in some parts of the Iranian government, whether they don't want the United States to stay.
CHADWICK: Because there might be chaos if America leaves.
SHUSTER: Well, we had a - I had an interview with another senior official at the Iranian Foreign Ministry who wanted to talk for background because he wanted to be more candid. He spoke very fluent English. And we asked him as well what the United States should do in Iraq. And this is what he said. The United States should work to establish stability and security in Iraq. It should train the Iraqi security forces. It should bolster the government in Baghdad of Prime Minister Nouri al-Miliki. That's what Iran wants to do. And the United States should reconstruct the country. And I said to him, that's the strategy and the approach of the Bush administration. And he just smiled.
CHADWICK: Was there any sense in Tehran that Iran actually is going to help the United States get to what it calls a rational decision?
SHUSTER: In fact, Foreign Minister Mottaki said, specifically that Iran wants to help the United States craft an exit strategy that would leave stability and security in Iraq behind. The problem is how to do that. And the Iranians don't have any specifics, at least specifics that they were willing to discuss with me, a journalist.
CHADWICK: Okay. Another topic from your visit. You also got to go to a research plant where Iranians are working on nuclear power. There doesn't seem to be any flexibility coming out of there on the subject of we're going to go ahead and do what we want with nukes.
SHUSTER: No, there's no flexibility. I think that there is a very clear hardening of the position, especially on uranium enrichment. The United States and the Europeans have said that Iran can go ahead with its civil nuclear program without uranium enrichment because the United States especially fears uranium enrichment can lead to a nuclear weapon.
The Iranians have this strong confidence that in effect there's nothing that the United States can do about it to stop them. And they, in effect, ruled out even a very short suspension of uranium enrichment for the sake of future negotiations and getting out from under U.N. Security Council sanctions and all that. They are very united and very tough on the nuclear issue.
CHADWICK: You know, Mike, I am reading less these days about the prospect of the United States taking military action against Iran. But it hasn't gone away; there still are neo-conservatives especially who think the United States should take military action against Iran. Do you get any sense in Iran that they're afraid of this?
SHUSTER: No. In fact, in previous visits, last year, for instance, I did get the feeling that Iranian leaders were nervous - worried about this. Now you don't get that feeling at all. The foreign minister said he didn't think that the administration had the capability to what he said was inflict another war on the American taxpayer. So they think that there is nothing that the United States can do and that ultimately the United States will have to compromise with them.
CHADWICK: NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster back with us after a tour of Iran.
Mike, thank you again.
SHUSTER: Thank you, Alex.
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