Iran Rejects US 'Pressure' on Nuclear Issue
Simon Tisdall, Ewen MacAskill, Robert Tait, The Guardian:
The US is determined to topple Iran's Islamic government whether or not the crisis over the country's nuclear activities is resolved, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said today. US enmity towards Iran was entrenched, Mr Larijani told the Guardian. "The nuclear issue is just a pretext. If it was not the nuclear matter, they would have come up with something else."
The compromise package offered by the west on Iran's nuclear activities amounted to a "sermon", he said, rejecting outright President George Bush's demands this week that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment.
"If they want to put this prerequisite, why are we negotiating at all? Mr Bush is like a mathematician. When the equation becomes very difficult to work out, he likes to wipe it out altogether ... the pressure they are putting on us is reason enough for us to be suspicious." READ MORE
Mr Larijani's remarks represented his most negative assessment since the west's package was presented on June 6, suggesting a quick resolution was unlikely. Diplomats say Iran has been given a de facto deadline of the G8 summit in St Petersburg in mid-July for a formal response.
But Mr Larijani said Iran would present extensive and detailed counter-proposals only when it was ready to do so, although committees of experts were "working round the clock". A debate is underway inside the government with hardline ayatollahs calling for outright rejection of the west's ideas and some officials stressing their positive aspects.
Mr Larijani, former deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is the most influential political figure in the country after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and answers directly to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. As chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, he oversees security and defence strategy.
Mr Larijani said American policies in the Middle East, from Iraq to Palestine, were deeply destabilising and had complicated efforts to cut a deal. "If they continue on the same path, the price of oil will skyrocket and it will strengthen our resolve. They want to set fire to the region. The American strategy is to use force to secure their interests."
He also blamed Israel for many of the region's problems. "I think those people advising the CIA are the Zionists. They are pushing [the Americans] into this quagmire of war."
He denied reports that Iran was planning to block oil export routes through the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if it was attacked or if UN sanctions were imposed. But he warned that if hostile action was taken through the UN security council, Iran would "reconsider its relationship" with the International Atomic Energy Agency. That could spell an end to already limited UN inspections of the nuclear plants at Natanz and Isfahan.
Mr Larijani said he was in constant contact by telephone with the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, contrasting Iran's dialogue with the Europeans with a lack of contact with the Bush administration.
But he offered to talk to the White House if US policies changed. "We should put aside the [US] sanctions and give up all this talk about regime change. This is what we are looking for ... if the Americans change their behaviour in the region and change their strategy, I assure you that talking over the phone will not be a serious problem."
He was critical of US attempts to promote democracy inside Iran. "They said they wanted to turn Iraq into a beacon of democracy. And out of that whole venture came Abu Ghraib and atrocities that were committed there on a daily basis ... the Palestinians chose a Hamas government. Why are they so hostile towards them?"
The $70m earmarked by the Bush administration to aid propaganda efforts inside Iran was an insult, he said. "I think that money is very little, to be honest," he said with a wry smile. "The minimum acceptable amount should be $70bn so the citizens of this country would at least get something out of it."
Mr Larijani declined to discuss the specifics of Iran's coming counter-proposals. "But suffice it to say [the west's package] has a lot of ambiguous points. These ambiguities persist from the beginning to the end of the package. On many of the points, we do not know how they intend to go about them. The package is more like a statement. If we are going to get agreement, we do not need a sermon."
Mr Larijani said there was no doubt that security guarantees were badly needed as part of any deal - "but not what they have talked about. They should not try to repackage their needs as incentives and offer that to us as a concession".
But he reiterated Iran's insistence that, despite western suspicions to the contrary, it has no wish to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. "We are not trying to construct the bomb. We don't want the bomb. The Americans know this. And Mr [John] Negroponte [the US intelligence tsar] announced some time ago that that Iranians don't have the bomb and wouldn't be able to make the bomb, even if they wanted to, for more than 10 years."
He strongly objected to the west's perceived double standards in objecting to limited nuclear-related "research and development" by Iran while acquiescing in Israel's and India's nuclear weapons programmes.