[Asharq Al Awsat] Is Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad attendance of the OPEC summit confirmed?
[Hosseini] The Iranian president will arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the head of a high level delegation that includes a vice-president and the foreign, petroleum, and economic affairs and finance ministers. It is natural that the conference will be a summit in view of the participation of the leaders of the oil exporting states. Developments in the petroleum and oil market will be discussed, and there are topics on the agenda which are being studied and which will be discussed.
In view of the importance we attach to Saudi-Iranian relations and the close friendship and love that have grown between the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Iranian president in the past period, we hope there will be a meeting between the leaders of the two countries to discuss issues of mutual interests, bilateral issues, and other regional issues.
[Asharq Al Awsat] Are there Iranian ideas that will be put to the third OPEC summit?
[Hosseini] Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki will arrive today, 16 November, and he will be meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. During the meeting they will exchange views and consult on issues that will be put to the OPEC summit. As Iran and Saudi Arabia are two important members of OPEC it is natural that they have common views to put to the meeting.
As you know, there are developments in the oil market at present as a result of the rise in prices in the previous period. Naturally there are some topics that need to be discussed in that regard, and the two sides need to exchange views and consult about them.
[Asharq Al Awsat] Let us move to the Saudi proposal on the enrichment of uranium in a neutral zone in the Middle East. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz has call on Iran to accept the proposal. Can this issue be on the agenda of the talks between King Abdullah and Ahmadinejad?
[Hosseini] Regarding the Saudi government’s proposal and whether it will be put forward in the bilateral meeting, that is up to the Saudis and their desire to put forward the proposal or not. However, regarding the proposal made by Prince Saud al-Faisal an official stand was expressed by the official spokesman of the Iranian foreign ministry which states that Tehran will study any idea involving its right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes because we believe – as signatories to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty[NPT] which prescribes rights and duties of member states – that in addition to their obligations signatory states are entitled to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
The Islamic Republic’s decision in this regard has been repeatedly declared by officials. First: Iran considers that any attempt to possess or produce nuclear weapons is totally barred, and His Eminence Imam [Ali] Khamenei considered it forbidden by the Shariaa. Second: Possession of a nuclear weapon is not part of Iran’s policy, because we believe that such a weapon does not bring strength to any side. Iran has never been a state that supplies itself with nuclear weapons. It was the first to propose declaring the Middle East a nuclear free zone. However, it believes that the enemies of the NPT must abide by the treaty’s obligations and show transparency. We have provided transparency to the states of the world, and there have been hundreds of hours of surprise and unplanned inspections of nuclear installations by IAEA installations. We also believe that the world’s nuclear powers must not engage in their racist and double-standard policies to prevent some states from using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. There was a fair stand by Prince Saud al-Faisal which I still recall, when he said that Israel possesses nuclear weapons but there is no pressure on it. Iran has repeatedly declared that the possession of nuclear weapons is prohibited by Shariaa. It is among the states that cooperate in a satisfactory manner with the IAEA, yet pressure is exerted on it.
[Asharq Al Awsat] Then what is the aim of the Western states in claiming that Iran seeks to possess nuclear weapons?
[Hosseini] You certainly know that the United States is at the head of states that want to create a crisis for Iran. You certainly know that Washington has a hegemonic inclination in the region and the world. It exerts pressure on Iran not because it uses nuclear energy, for in the past -36 years ago – the United States was the first to encourage the former regime in Iran (the Shah’s regime) to establish nuclear plants, and provided the capability to achieve that objective. America does not oppose nuclear energy in Iran, but it wants to exert pressure on Iran, because Tehran wants to maintain its independence, and wants to remain a conservative Islamic state. In this regard, we must refer to the US double standard in dealing with the nuclear issue in the region, for Washington has ignored Israel’s weapons of mass destruction. We never heard that Washington condemned the presence of such weapons in Israel.
[Asharq Al Awsat] Do I understand from what you are saying that it is an ideological or religious battle?
[Hosseini] It is a combination of political and ideological issues. First, the United States does not want there to be an independent state that decides its own destiny. It does not tolerate the existence of such a state. The former regime in Iran was a strategic ally of the United States, and consequently it did not condemn the Shah’s regime.
Second, there are some expressions that are used by the United States and some Western states, such as “Crusade” and “the clash of civilizations.” They consider real Islam to be a threat to them. Now we see that the Western states and America accuse Iran and Saudi Arabia of violating human rights, because those two countries want to adopt the provisions that stem from Islamic canon law [Shariaa] and that is why accusations are leveled against those two countries. Also within the same framework, we see that when any terrorist attack occurs, and before it is investigated, they accuse Muslims. We as Muslims have not leveled accusations against them. Islam is a tolerant religion that believes in calm, peace, and consideration for the rights of others, and it obliges everyone to show consideration for the rights of others. Islam does not even ignore the rights of animals, trees, and nature. Regrettably, however, the Western media depicts Islam as a religion of violence and terrorism that does not respect the rights of others.
On the other hand, we have not seen the Western states and America taking a stand on the massacres perpetrated against the wronged Palestinian people, and in the United Nations they exercise their right of veto to stop resolutions condemning that.
[Asharq Al Awsat] With regard to Gulf-Iranian relations, are there efforts to eliminate Gulf fears of your nuclear program?
[Hosseini] The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to remove the fears and anxiety of friendly and neighboring states. We know that Gulf States want to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and that is their legitimate right. Many Iranian delegations have visited the states of the region to explain Tehran’s view on its nuclear file, and official talks were held in Tehran by delegations from area countries on the same issue. Iran assured the delegations of those countries in order not to give the United States and Western states any opportunity to exploit the matter. Iran is also prepared to have any kind of cooperation with the states of the region at the highest levels and in all fields.
[Asharq Al Awsat] How far have the Saudi-Iranian contacts which began after the meeting between King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz and President Ahmadinejad reached? Have they ceased?
[Hosseini] Saudi-Iranian consultations have not ceased, but its forms have changed. In the past there used to be exchanges of visits by delegations, and at present there are also exchanges of delegations’ visits. Now there are telephone contacts at the level of the heads of the two countries and their foreign ministers. Consultations are continuing. You are certainly aware of the regional meetings that have been held and in which the two sides took part. In all those meetings the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers met and consulted over various issues. Consultations are continuing and have not ceased. There was a meeting between the Iranian security minister and the Saudi interior minister. In the coming days there will be a meeting between the Iranian president and King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz during President Ahmadinejad’s stay in Riyadh. That is the best evidence that consultations have not ceased, but have increased during the past period. The absence of the media may have played a role in recent Saudi-Iranian consultations not being highlighted, for those consultations took place away from the media.
[Asharq Al Awsat] What has been achieved in the Saudi-Iranian contacts to break the ice between Sunnis and Shiites?
[Hosseini] There are good contacts between the ulema of the two countries. There are exchanges of visits by Saudi and Iranian ulema. Some days ago Ayatollah Ali al-Taskhiri was present in Saudi Arabia.
There are talks taking place on holding the second round of meetings between Saudi and Iranian ulema at the level of the two countries’ senior ulema. In my view, those are good activities. The distinctive feature of those activities is that they are not media-oriented. It is because of that some people think the level of consultations has fallen.
I believe the exchange of visits between the two countries has become a necessity. We need to have consultations between the ulema in view of the attempts by the enemies of Islam to provoke sectarian and confessional sedition. We believe that Sunnis and Shiites have the same bases and principles. The differences that exist are connect with jurisprudential issues and are very few. In one of his studies, Ayatollah Al-Taskhiri has proved that what the two sects have in common is as high as 95%, and jurisprudential differences are only 5%. Such differences also exist between the principles of the imams of the four Sunni schools of thought. There are ill-fated attempts to exaggerate and hype simple differences to provoke sectarian sedition. Regrettably, the enemies have succeeded in that matter.
[Asharq Al Awsat] Has a date been fixed for the meeting between Sunni and Shiite ulema?
[Hosseini] Talks are continuing at present. The round will be held later. I must refer to the great importance which King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz attaches to the meeting, and that springs from his wisdom and farsightedness. The Iranians at a high level also attach similar importance. Imam Khamenei, leader of the Islamic revolution, shows serious interest in this matter, and he even called 2007 “the year of Islamic solidarity.” More than any time in the past we now need to achieve Islamic solidarity and unity. Unity pleases God and His messenger more than anything else, and division and fragmentation anger God and His messenger more than anything else. We must have constant solidarity.
[Asharq Al Awsat] During his presence in Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the recent Arab summit [as an observer] Iranian foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki promoted an idea about establishing an Arab-Iranian security pact which in its first stage would include the Gulf States. What has happened to the idea?
[Hosseini] This idea has been put forward a long time ago, on the basis that the states of the region – especially the Gulf states – have no way other than cooperation. Iran wants there to be collective security. We in fact believe in that idea which has been put forward, and which is being studied now. However, any security cooperation requires paving the ground for it. There is another aspect which is connected to economic and regional cooperation. Iran has asked to be a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council[GCC], and the idea is also being studied.
[Asharq Al Awsat] What was the response of the Gulf States to Iran’s proposal to join the GCC?
[Hosseini] The proposal was welcomed. The GCC secretary general has welcomed the request. It is notable that the request was on the agenda of the latest GCC summit. I would like to say that our application was confined to economic cooperation with the GCC states, for the experience of the EU states began with economic cooperation and expanded to a political and security union.