Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Choice is in Hands of the Iranian Government

Maryam Kashani & Hossein Bastani, Rooz Online:
Rooz Online Interview with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy

Mr. Minister, why did you choose to speak to Rooz Online?

First because the Internet media have a very large audience in your country as they are very free and transparent. It is important in my view for all Iranians to know and understand our positions: we would like Iran to allay the concerns of the international community and to play its full role at regional and international level. READ MORE

Iran’s nuclear issue is now before the UN Security Council. How do you think it is going to be followed up?

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted on 29 March 2006 a presidential statement that calls on Iran to take, within 30 days, the necessary measures to restore the confidence of the international community.

The heart of the problem is not Iran’s rights to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Nobody contests these rights if they are exercised by Iran in good faith and in conformity with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The key problem is the lack of confidence in the peaceful purposes of the programmes launched by the Iranian regime in the nuclear field. The international community, not only France, has indeed serious and legitimate reasons to be concerned by the sensitive nuclear activities conducted by Iran.

Mr ElBaradei himself, in his February 2006 IAEA report, felt that “the Agency is not ... in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear ... activities in Iran. One could also add that the Agency finds that cooperation between the Agency and the Iranian authorities is insufficient as the representatives of the Iranian government have failed to provide convincing explanations for their fissile material production programme, which would not make sense technologically or economically if it were just meant to produce energy for powerplants.

This lack of confidence in the exact scope, nature and direction of Iran’s nuclear programme has justified the international community’s request, through the IAEA Board of Governors, that Iran suspend its most sensitive activities. This demand is simple, legitimate and does not affect the economic development of Iran, nor its rights.

But the Iranian regime ignored these requests and decided not to heed the calls of the IAEA. The Board of Governors had thus no choice but to implement international law and to refer the issue to the UNSC.

We, as far as we are concerned, are ready to resume negotiations with the Iranian authorities at any time and we want to re-launch the negotiating process, but we need confidence and this confidence can only be provided by the Iranian authorities by fully suspending their sensitive activites and cooperating with the Agency.

In Persian, we have an expression which says: “you have to put meat in front of the cat”. Now with Iran’s case at the Security Council where the U.S has the major role, does this expression convey the message to you?

As you probably know, the UNSC has 15 members and five of them are permanent members.

When we, Europeans, took the decision in 2003 to temporarily suspend the standard implementation of the IAEA Statute, which would then have required a referral to the UNSC, we were on the brink of an international crisis created by the disclosure of an undeclared nuclear programme in Iran.

We took on specific responsibility at that time by taking the lead in the diplomatic process that was launched in Tehran in October 2003 and continued in Paris in November 2004. Of course, we did not take that decision alone, but with the support of the whole IAEA Board of Governors, including the United States, as well as Russia and China.

It was Europe which made ambitious proposals to Iran in many areas of interest to the Iranian people such as political dialogue, security, access to modern technologies, and cooperation in the development of nuclear energy. At the same time, we called on the Iranian authorities to suspend all sensitive nuclear activities in order to dispel all concerns over Iran's fissile material production programme.

Today, the choice is definitely in the hands of the Iranian government, which is to choose between returning to the negotiating table or continuing with the present situation which precludes all dialogue.

Concerning this issue, Western countries say they do not trust the Iranian regime. What about the Iranian people and the future of this country? How will Iran be able to exercise its rights in this field in the future?

This is not a dispute between the West and the Non-Aligned Movement, nor between the North and the South, nor between the West and Muslim countries. This is about lack of confidence shared by the whole international community. To be convinced of this, one simply needs to note that during the last IAEA Boards of Governors meeting, Russia, China, Egypt, India, Brazil and Yemen all voted for the resolution.

We think that Iran, given its history, its culture and its influence, is a major country in the Middle East and hence deserves respect. And we offered Iran the possibility to take a strategic decision with regard to its future and its relations with the international community, i.e. to opt for international cooperation and openness, for a new era in its relationship with the rest of the world, in the primary interest of the Iranian people.

In today’s world, we all know that economic development and prosperity are closely linked to international cooperation. This is the basis for the choice that some European countries successfully made 50 years ago. Iran, too, needs international cooperation to ensure its development, as all countries do. For complete self-reliance cannot be achieved, simply because Iran's estimated uranium reserves are not sufficient to sustain the programme it has announced. So the key issue is really for Iran to secure its long-term access to nuclear power through international cooperation. That is precisely what the EU3 proposed last August.

The decisions taken by the Iranian regime since last summer run counter to the prospects we have opened up. Conversely, Iran's legitimate rights to the peaceful use of nuclear energy would best be preserved if Iran responded positively to international calls, complied with its international commitments and chose the path of cooperation. Europe remains willing to accompany Iran along this path.

Speaking of the people of Iran, I would like to mention this: Iranian intellectuals do not trust the EU. They think it is not interested in human rights and democracy. At the same time, most citizens believe that EU only defends its “economic interests” in Iran. Nor does the EU enjoy the favour of the Islamic regime. What sort of diplomacy is this?

I regret that some people view French and European policy in this way. Contrary to the idea held here and there that Europe is an essentially economic and trading power concerned solely with mercantile considerations, the EU harbours a political ambition that rests on full adherence to human rights. These are universal and Iran has moreover ratified most of the international conventions that define fundamental rights. Greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is therefore essential to advance relations between the European Union and Iran. We are aware of many examples of critical situations to which we are paying special attention. Practices such as the continued detention of prisoners of conscience often under harsh conditions are not in keeping with the wealth and openness of Iran's culture. I therefore salute the courage shown by Akbar Gandji during the six years he spent in prison for having used his freedom of expression. I am also thinking of Dhabihullah Mahrami, who died in prison where he was held solely on the grounds of his religious beliefs. We are deeply worried about the harassment of the Baha'i and Sufi minorities who are highly discriminated against. In addition, our opposition to the death penalty, which is also applied to minors, must be recalled.

Last December, the French Republic Award for Human Rights was awarded to the Iranian Organization for the Defense of Prisoners, for its fight for the abolition of the death penalty. I regret that its president was not allowed to travel to France personally to receive the award from the Prime Minister himself. In 2003, the Human Rights Defenders’ Center, co-founded by Shirin Ebadi, whom I welcomed to the Quai d'Orsay on 8 March, was also awarded the French Republic Award for Human Rights. As regards the exercise of political freedom, we emphasized our concern about the conditions in which the 2004 legislative elections were prepared in Iran, when several thousand candidacies were invalidated. This was also observed in 2005 during the last presidential election, regarding which the European Union stressed that the process for selecting candidates had not been democratic.

Many people think that you have put all your eggs in one basket, that of the Iranian government. Have you ever addressed the Iranian people? If so, how?

It is normal for us to hold discussions with the ruling authorities as they are our designated interlocutors. But contacts between Europe and Iran actually take place at all levels, be they official, of course, or between intellectuals, journalists, researchers, students and business people. Many Iranians visit or reside in our countries, and I would like those relations between the peoples of France and Iran, which are fuelled by mutual esteem, to continue developing and lead to better understanding. Many concrete cooperation actions are conducted in this spirit in all areas, including the scientific field with, in particular, the Gundishapur programme; the literary field, with the Poets' Caravan; and the linguistic and arts fields. We have put in place a scheme specially designed to meet the expectations of Iranian students for whom France is the third leading host country. I would also like to stress the actions undertaken by France following the earthquake that plunged the city of Bam into mourning in December 2003, namely providing emergency humanitarian aid, completing and equipping the Pasteur Hospital, supporting efforts in Iran in the fields of urban planning and heritage restoration, and helping to have Bam's cultural heritage listed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in danger. France and the European Union regularly send public messages, relating in particular to the human rights situation, to the authorities and to civil society. The Iranian people ought to know that these messages are messages of solidarity.

Recently President Chirac announced that France reserved the right to use nuclear weapons against states that used terrorism against France. Other officials later specified that no specific government was the target of that statement. But the fact remains that should the French government, for whatever reason, come to the conclusion that Tehran is supporting terrorism against Paris, would France respond by using nuclear weapons against Iran or not?

Our concept for the use of nuclear weapons remains unchanged. The French deterrent is not directed against any particular country. French nuclear weapons form no part of any strategy based on the military use of such weapons and have never been considered by France to be war-fighting assets. France has always stated that the purpose of its deterrent forces is solely to guarantee that its vital interests will never be threatened by any particular country, whatever the nature of the threat. Nothing more, nothing less. So it is the responsibility of the French Head of State to permanently define France’s vital interests. This is precisely what President Chirac recently did in the speech you have just quoted.

Rooz Online would now like to put a question to you as the official in charge of foreign affairs within the French government. Your answer is important to Iranian public opinion. Supposing that Iran accepts the demands of the European Union regarding Iran’s nuclear policy, would France keep putting as much pressure on the Iranian government over the issue of human rights as it did over nuclear issues? If so, how?

If the Iranian authorities make the gestures expected from them in the nuclear field, this will help promote long-term dialogue and cooperation between our two countries. Last August, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union expressed to the Iranian regime their wish to establish a long-term relationship with your country, once confidence over the nuclear issue is restored. I strongly deplore the fact that the Iranian authorities have failed to seize the hand of friendship held out to them. I still hope that they will seize this chance, as this would benefit both Iran and France.

You should not think, however, that if an agreement were reached on this issue, we would abandon the serious concerns raised by the human rights situation in Iran. The evolution of the situation in Iran as regards these rights is for us a major cause of major concern. As I have already told you, France, like the European Union, supports and will continue to support the promotion of human rights in Iran and those groups active in this field. In this connection, we regret the Iranian authorities' failure to allow the dialogue on human rights between the European Union and Iran, that brings together representatives of the European and Iranian civil societies, to continue after the last meeting held on this issue in June 2004.