Iran's ex-president: U.S should show goodwill
In a rare and exclusive interview in Tehran Sunday, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former president and the consensus frontrunner in June's presidential elections, talked with USA TODAY's Barbara Slavin about U.S.-Iranian relations, al-Qaeda, and Iran's alleged nuclear bomb program. ...
Slavin: Would you be prepared to reopen a dialogue with the United States?
Rafsanjani: The first step has to be from the U.S. part. They have to show positive signs for us so we can believe they are sincere. The main thing would be our assets. That would be the best positive sign. This is a very wrong action that they have betrayed our trust. When I talk about the assets, that was at the beginning of the talks. I was president then. I'm not president now. When I said it, this would be a sign of goodwill to begin the talks.
Slavin: Should Iran show goodwill by using its influence over the Palestinian groups to stop violence against the Israelis?
Rafsanjani: The Palestinian groups do not listen to us. We only help them in a humanitarian aspect like other countries, but they have no obligations towards us.
Slavin: Are you satisfied with the nuclear talks with the Europeans and would you like the U.S. to join the process?
Rafsanjani: I'm not satisfied with the progress of the work, but I am happy that the talks are going on. It might have a negative effect if the United States joins.
Slavin: Are you concerned about all the tough statements from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials in recent days?
Rafsanjani: Miss Rice talks very tough. We have gotten used to this nonsense. Miss Rice is a bit emotional about this, and we predicted that she would have a more emotional approach to this. ...
Slavin: What is the biggest problem facing Iran now?
Rafsanjani: We don't have a major problem right now in our country, and life is normal. Things like unemployment, which the youth are suffering from, and the rate of inflation — these are chronic conditions and we have to solve them.
Slavin: Many Iranians say they make just $200 a month, and they say that's not enough to live on.
Rafsanjani: $200 in Iran is the equivalent of $1,000 in other countries. In Iran, things like water, electricity and bread — the necessities of life — are cheaper compared to other places and there are a lot of subsidies. The purchasing power of the people is 3 times more than the GNP (gross national product) per capita because of subsidies.
Slavin: Have you decided to run for president (in the June 17 election)?
Rafsanjani: I haven't decided whether to run for the presidency or become a candidate. We would like for another person to come up, and with that person, they (the Iranian people) would become satisfied.
Slavin: If no one else emerges?
Rafsanjani: In that case, I might announce it, but we have 2 or 3 more months.
Slavin: People say you are the only one who can solve the problem with the United States.
Rafsanjani: I'm not the only one but I am one of them. ...
Slavin: Isn't your real problem with the United States? You know the Europeans are never going to attack Iran.
Rafsanjani: We say they (the United States) wouldn't dare to attack us and they have tested it once (the failed hostage rescue in 1980). Before the U.S. was in Iran, they had all the means here and we threw them out with our bare hands.
Slavin: For Iran to develop, for it to have jobs and a complete end to isolation, don't you need the United States?
Rafsanjani: We do not trust the goodwill of the U.S. They have cut the ties. ...
Slavin: Would you be willing to invite high level members of congress such as (Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders) Richard Lugar and Joe Biden to Iran?
Rafsanjani: They can come. We have no objection. If it is intended to be a serious visit, then we expect the U.S. would make a move to prove its goodwill, and that would be the kickoff point. ...
Slavin: What about Iran's connection with al-Qaeda? There have been persistent reports that Iran has several high-level al-Qaeda people under house arrest in Tehran and won't turn them over.
Rafsanjani: Who created al-Qaeda? In fact they (the United States) were the ones who provoked al-Qaeda to come and give us trouble. These are all rumors (about high level al-Qaeda people here). When al-Qaeda was on the run from Afghanistan crossing through Iran, some were arrested and they are imprisoned. Some of them are charged with some actions in Iran.
Slavin: Some important ones?
Rafsanjani: You know these things, I don't. Several have been repatriated to related countries. Those who have remained are those who have committed crimes here and are awaiting trial. I would expect that you would forward a question to President Bush: Why terrorists who have committed crimes in Iran are not returned here? Worse yet, in your territory, they are permitted to enter your Congress, the U.N., and have lobbying and political activities, whereas no one can ever suggest that al Qaeda can ever have any activity in Iran. They are our enemies, too. You are aware of what (Jordanian al Qaeda leader Abu Musab) Zarqawi and his group have done to our friends in Iraq. ...
Slavin: What about Iranian prisons? I hear prisoners not very well treated there. You have arrested many students and web bloggers for expressing opinions.
Rafsanjani: I am essentially against any harsh approach to these issues in Iran. There is no need for such actions. Each department and institution has its own authorities and responsibilities, and they act on that basis. It is wrong to even compare such actions to what is done in Guantanamo or elsewhere by the Americans. They do not stand on a high moral platform to preach to others.
Slavin: You've said Secretary of State Condi Rice is very tough. What about President Bush?
Rafsanjani: Condi Rice talks tough but she cannot be tough herself.
Slavin: And Bush?
Rafsanjani: President Bush also has slips of the tongue often. One could really write a full editorial comprising these slips. I do not think it is correct or appropriate for someone in that high position as the president of the United States (to talk that way). The United States is a big country but unfortunately it seems it has the brain of a little bird not befitting the greatness of the country.
Slavin: Does Iran need or want nuclear weapons, given that Israel, India and Pakistan have them?
Rafsanjani: We are certain that we will never use such weapons, therefore they have no utility for us. Even during our war with Iraq, we could have employed chemical weapons but we refrained. I'm sure you must be aware of the casualties we faced (some 750,000 dead or wounded over eight years). It is unfortunate that I have to stress that your country is among those that have to share part of the guilt (because the United States supplied chemical munitions to Saddam Hussein during 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war).
Slavin: Is there anything more you want to tell American people about your views on United States?
Rafsanjani: The mere fact that I am sitting here talking to you is an indication that we have no differences with the American people. This would not happen with an Israeli journalist. We want good relations with the American people. There has to be a dialogue between the governments, but what can one do when your government has always wronged us? We need to see evidence that this process will be reversed.
Referring to leaders of the Mujaheddin Khalq, an anti-Iranian regime group that is on the State Department's terrorist list but many of whose members are under U.S. protection in Iraq.