Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rafsanjani admits Iran lied over nuclear bombs

The Scotsman:
THE front-runner in the Iranian presidential race said in a rare British television interview last night that Iran was not planning a nuclear bomb, but admitted that the country may in the past have deceived the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the West. READ MORE

Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, who is leading opinion polls ahead of tomorrow's election, said that if elected as president he would continue Iran's nuclear programme, but only for peaceful ends.

Asked in a BBC interview about issues of trust between Iran, the United States and the IAEA, Mr Rafsanjani acknowledged that Iran may have been cheating on nuclear obligations. He said it was "possible that, at times, Iran has not reported its activities."

"But from the time Iran decided to make such reports, it has made everything transparent," he said.

Mr Rafsanjani said that if elected, he would make sure Iran lived up to all its obligations to the IAEA, but that he expected others to abide by regulations as well. "With regard to the IAEA, the agency itself has not complied with its own duties regarding Iran.

"They were given the task of helping us so that we could make use of the peaceful benefits of nuclear technology. They did not fulfil their duties," Mr Rafsanjani said.

On the issue of frosty relations with the US, Mr Rafsanjani suggested that comments by George Bush, the US president, about Iran being the axis of evil, a sponsor of terror and a pursuant of nuclear weapons had aggravated tensions.

"When he uses this kind of language, we say it is America that is the sponsor of terrorism, it's America that's the axis of evil in the world, and it is America that is continually breaching human rights, for example in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, and the black Americans and in many other areas."

But he said there were recent signs that suggested the US and Iran could work together and enjoy a better relationship.

"The obstacle that they'd put in the way of Iran's entry into the WTO was lifted. They said Iran can carry out limited nuclear enrichment, as long as it does not carry out military work, and recently even agreed to sell Boeing spare parts to Iran," Mr Rafsanjani said. "Of course they are only small signs - it might be the beginning."

Mr Rafsanjani is the favourite in tomorrow's presidential polls. As part of a marketing campaign designed to shed his hardline image, the 70-year-old cleric and former revolutionary has been encouraging young Tehranis to plaster his name anywhere they can.

Stickers saying "Hashemi - for the good of Iran" now adorn cars, bags and even the odd teenage girl's forehead, poking out from beneath the compulsory headscarves that his manifesto pledges to scrap.

Some, however, have been a little more creative with his emblem than his campaign team would have liked.

"I have rubbed out the last three letters of his name so that it says 'Hash - for the good of Iran'," says Mustapha, 21, grinning slyly.

"Most people round here wouldn't understand that it's a joke about drugs, but if anybody complains I will just say it was accidental."

Mustapha - not his real name - will not be making his mark in any other way when the polls open tomorrow. Like many other young Iranians, he plans to boycott the vote in protest at the strict vetoing of candidates by the country's conservative guardian council, the 12-strong clerical body that still wields the real power in the land.

Those on the shortlist, he said, were all either "retread" hardliners, or people who had promised reform in the past but failed to deliver.

"Voting this time is not going to make a difference, as Hashemi is going to get in anyway," he said. "All we will do is give the conservatives confidence that people have faith in their election system."