DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A top Iranian diplomat says his country has finished its retaliation against the United States. But it's worth listening carefully to the way he says it. A wider conflict between the two nations seems certain to continue.
The Iranian diplomat spoke to our colleague Steve Inskeep.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Majid Takht Ravanchi is Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. He spoke yesterday afternoon after his country launched missiles at the U.S. and its allies in Iraq. Iran called it retaliation for the U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
As Ambassador Ravanchi came to the line in New York, news bulletins were flowing into our newsroom. In Baghdad, rockets were landing in the green zone near the U.S. Embassy. In Washington, a U.S. general said it was too early to tell if Iran's attacks were done. So we asked Ambassador Ravanchi to tell us.
Is Iran's retaliation against the United States finished?
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI: What we have said is that we took a measured, proportionate response to the terrorist assassination of our top general, Qassem Soleimani, last night. And as far as Iran is concerned, that action was concluded last night. So it depends on the United States. If the U.S. ventures to attack Iran again, definitely - proportionate response will be taken in response to that attack.
INSKEEP: OK. And you said that this concluded the retaliation. So if there are people concerned about other forms of attack, such as cyberattacks on U.S. interests or attacks by allies of Iran throughout the region, you're saying Iran would not endorse that. You are done.
TAKHT RAVANCHI: We are responsible for the actions that we take. We do not consider any sort of actions to be taken by others. The action was taken in accordance with our rights, which was proportionate and which was in response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani.
INSKEEP: When you said you don't take responsibility for the actions of others, are you saying it is entirely possible that Iraqi militias aligned with Iran could still lash out and Iran would not accept responsibility for what they're doing?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: I'm not suggesting anything in this regard. We are not responsible for any other people to do whatever they are going to do. So we are - as I said, I'm not suggesting anything to accept or to reject any sort of actions by others.
INSKEEP: Iran's supreme leader speaking after this retaliation said the next step was to push the United States out of the region, U.S. forces out of the region. How does Iran intend to do that?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: The people of the region are calling for the U.S. withdrawal from this neighborhood. Just look at the decision of the Iraqi Parliament. The Iraqi Parliament decided to say to the whole world that there is no place for the U.S. forces in Iraq. The American forces are not welcome in our neighborhood.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, you're correct that Iraq's Parliament did vote to expel forces from Iraq. But we should be clear; they didn't vote to expel the United States from Iraq. They voted to expel foreign forces from Iraq. And that leads us to note that General Soleimani, a member of Iran's military, was in Iraq when he was killed. What was he doing there?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: He was there to help the Iraqi armed forces to fight terrorists at the invitation of the Iraqi government. He was a popular figure not only in Iran but in the neighboring countries because he sacrificed a lot to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of these countries.
INSKEEP: But wasn't General Soleimani the symbol of Iran's involvement in Iraq, which is something that Iraqis have been protesting against in recent months?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: You know, there are different voices within Iraq. But when he was murdered in Iraq, you saw the Iraqi people, how the Iraqi people reacted in anger. He sacrificed himself for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.
INSKEEP: As you must know, ambassador, the United States asserts that General Soleimani was plotting attacks against Americans, against the United States. Are you able to say if he was plotting such attacks?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: It is the duty of the United States to prove otherwise - I mean, to prove that he was, in fact, plotting to to kill Americans because...
INSKEEP: But I can also ask you. Was he plotting to kill Americans?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: No. He - as I said, he was there in order to help the Iraqi government to better, I mean, fight terrorists - pure and simple. It is...
GREENE: But let's be clear; Iran has defined the United States as terrorists. Was he or his organization planning attacks against the United States or its interests at the time?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: As I said, it is the duty of the United States to provide any evidence. The claim that he was about to kill American citizens cannot be acceptable to all, and it is not being accepted even by the members of Congress. So one cannot accept this claim from the U.S. administration that the threat was imminent.
INSKEEP: One final thing, ambassador. President Trump, in making his statement responding to Iran's retaliation, began with this sentence, quote, "as long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon." Iran has said it doesn't want a nuclear weapon. Is that a statement on which you can agree with the president?
TAKHT RAVANCHI: What I can tell you is that we are not seeking nuclear weapons. It is not in our interest to have nuclear weapons. It is against the religious verdict of our supreme leader. But we cannot accept the fact that the U.S., in contravention of NPT, in contravention of the JCPOA, the resolution 2231 of the U.N. Security Council, is acting to deprive Iran from its rights. So the question should be posed to the U.S. administration when they want to join the international community and act like a normal country in respecting international agreements.
INSKEEP: Majid Takht Ravanchi is Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. He's in New York. Ambassador, thanks so much.
TAKHT RAVANCHI: Thank you, sir.
INSKEEP: Now you here at the end how Iran turns U.S. rhetoric against the U.S. The United States accuses Iran of terrorism. Iran accuses the U.S. of terrorism. The U.S. has said it wants Iran to act like a normal nation. Iran's ambassador just made the same remark about the United States.
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