Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Gregory Schulte, about Iran””””s nuclear ambitions prior to the revival of dialogue between Iran and the EU3 (France, Germany and Britain).
Q) How important are talks between Iran and the EU3?
A) The last board of governors sent a clear signal to Iran that many countries are losing patience with Tehran and are concerned about its intentions and activities.
Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, however, its activities, its nature, its refusal to cooperate, and its reluctance to reassure others, cause a lack of confidence in the alleged peaceful nature of activities.
Iran has an opportunity to negotiate with the EU3 who made it a generous offer to Iran and Russia also made some interesting offers. Iran should take advantage of such opportunities.
I know they are eager to keep negotiations going. At the last board meeting, my British colleague made it very clear that time is running out, and that if negotiations do not begin soon, this must be reported to the Security Council as required in the statute of the agency.
Q) Does "soon" mean the next board meeting?
A) I think it depends on what happens. If Iran is willing to negotiate and cooperate with the IAEA then perhaps we will not address the issue. On the other hand, if they do not cooperate, then the EU3 has made it clear that they are prepared to call for an earlier board meeting if necessary.
We are not setting any deadlines, but saying that, our goal is to achieve a diplomatic solution and we need to have some indication from Iran that they are ready to negotiate and address the concerns of the international community.
Q) Does such an indication exist already?
A) The Iranian leadership has spoken about being ready to negotiate. The problem is that when they speak about negotiation, it refers to negotiations that will allow them to proceed with developing nuclear weapons programs, which is exactly what concerns the members of the boards and the international community.
We hope that they will be willing to negotiate with the agreement proposed by the EU3 to give Iran access to nuclear power, better economic access and opportunity for more political dialogue, but not for Uranium enrichment on Iranian soil.
There is no need for Iran to have enrichment capability on its soil. There are no peaceful reasons for it, nor commercial purposes, it does not make sense economically. Therefore, we hope that Iran will choose a different path.
Q) Recently, a French diplomat hinted that Russian proposals were now dead; however, the Director General of IAEA, Dr Mohamed Al-Baradei is still supporting the idea. What can you tell us about this?
A) We think it is very important that Russia be involved in negotiations. Their ideas are very interesting although they have not presented an official proposal. We hope that together with the EU, Iran will be able to pull itself out of the hole in which it has placed itself.
I believe it is important for Iranian leadership to understand that this issue does not only involve the EU3 and the US, but also Russia, China and other countries of the board, including those that are non-aligned.
Q) Do you believe that Iran will allow foreign supervision of their activities?
A) I think that the main concern is that Iranian leadership is digging itself into a hole, which Russian proposals and the EU3 will help them out of. We hope that Iranian leadership will also refrain making such outrageous statements as it has done recently and focus on the interests of the country and engage in serious negotiations.
Q) Dr Al-Baradei has invited the US to participate in negotiations, are you ready for this?
A) I do not intend to speak on behalf of Dr Al-Baradei. He has mentioned this in the past but has not called for immediate involvement.
Q) There is news that your Ambassador in Iraq is engaged in talks with Iran concerning the situation in Iraq.
A) As you well know, we do not have diplomatic relations with Iran. Periodically, we will hold discussions with them on particular subjects and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad has been authorized to engage in dialogue with Iran concerning Iraq.
We have a number of issues with Iran, not just regarding proliferation but also the human rights matter. They pretended to have an election; however, that was not a real election as intimidation took place on a large scale. The Supreme council did not allow numerous candidates to stand for election. Furthermore, Iran sponsors terrorism and it supports many violent factions in Iraq that hinder the peace process in the region. We have many concerns about Iran””””s activities.
We do hope that Tehran would change its course, not only to non-proliferation but also in terms of the way it treats its people and its relations with other countries.
Q) Many believe that America is trying to keep a low profile in Vienna because it needs Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan. How do you respond to this claim?
A) We have very strong views about Iranian policies and we do not hesitate to speak about them. We are concerned about the leadership, the way the nation is treated, Iran””””s support of terrorism and its nuclear capability. The world and specifically the Arab world would not be a safer place if Iran has nuclear weapons.
We are as determined as anyone else to convince the leadership in Tehran to follow a different approach. Iran should focus on what is good for its people, which is to establish a closer economic and political relationship with Europe as well as others and to have access to nuclear energy without causing others concern.
Q) Many believe that Iran is being treated unfairly as it has come under pressure, while Israel””””s nuclear capabilities are not looked at.
A) It is not only the USA that is concerned about Iran””””s intentions as Russia and Europe share the same worries. If you look at Iran””””s Shehab-3 missiles system, you will see that it is very similar to the situation in North Korea. The Shehab missiles have a range of 1300km that extends to Turkey, Pakistan, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia an Egypt, all of which are concerned about Iran””””s nuclear power.
Q) What will the United States do to persuade Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to have its weapons of mass destruction under international supervision?
A) I believe that the best way to alleviate tension in the Middle East is to pave the way for reducing weapons in the region. President Bush has been very clear in laying out the vision for a Middle East agreement, a vision that is increasingly shared by many others; that is of two democratic states living side by side. US Secretary of State, Dr. Rice was recently in the region working hard to implement the Road Map.
Q) For many however, American policy is not a policy of principles but rather that of interests.
A) The principles and the interests of the USA are shared by just about every other country. We want to strengthen the idea of non-proliferation, to endure countries international commitments, to get rid of terrorism, to promote peace in the Middle East, to promote democracy, and to respect human rights and dignity. In Iran””””s case, its seems that that country is working towards acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting terrorism and does not respect human rights.
We all have interests in the Middle East. We have supported the idea of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and we hope that the Director General would be able to begin talks concerning this idea.
Q) In the last general meeting of the IAEA, you personally sought to soften an Arab proposal to condemn Israel as the only state that has acquired nuclear weapons.
A) What I find odd is that countries would come to me, or the Director of the agency, but the Arab countries would not speak directly to Israel. At one point, the Director of the agency called for a meeting between the representatives of the Arab states and Israel to which only Israel turned up. I really believe that dialogue is the best way to address these issues. What concerns us frankly is Iran which does not promote the idea of two states living side by side, and the comments made by the Iranian president that Israel should be wiped off the map and more recently, that Israel should be moved to Europe! This is not a leadership that is committed to peace.
Q) If you are compelled to submit a report to the Security Council are you not worried about a Russian veto?
A) The worst that could happen is that Iran acquires nuclear weapons. That is our major concern. However, if Iran cooperates they would have the ability to influence when and how this happens. When serious negotiations begin, we can deliver a report, similar to the one we delivered about Libya, in which we stated that Libya had violated international commitments but is beginning to cooperate. This is the type of report that we would like to deliver to the Security Council.
Reporting to the Security Council does not mean the end of diplomacy but rather this is part of diplomacy. It is a sign to Iranian leadership that they are isolating themselves. Even with a report to the Security Council, our goal will remain as political, diplomatic agreement. The Security Council will take serious steps in pressuring Iran.
Q) For many, however, reporting to the Security Council means sanctions against the Iranian people who would suffer rather than the regime that would probably gain public support against America.
A) Iran is frustrating the international community. It must be made clear to the Iranian leadership that it is putting its country at risk of economic sanctions. Nobody wants to hurt the Iranian people and right now, it is the Iranian leadership that is harming its people and in the interests of its own people, it should listen to what the international community is saying.
Q) Why is Iran so defiant?
A) I do not read minds. In the end, international peace and security is what will suffer and we do not want that.
Q) Many people are concerned that referring the Iran issue to the Security Council will reflect badly on the IAEA. What is your opinion on this?
The IAEA makes the necessary decisions, only after that would we refer to the Security Council. We are enforcing the actions of the IAEA and will continue to play an important role. When the director general talks about what needs to be done to strengthen the IAEA, he refers to the importance of access to the Security Council.
If Iran continues to ignore the Board of Governors and we do not report to the Security Council, then that would weaken the agency.
Q) The request made by the British Ambassador on behalf of the EU that the Director General submits information received from Iran to the five major nuclear powers angered many people. What is your opinion on this?
A) I do not speak for the Ambassador but I think he was looking for countries that have nuclear expertise to be able to value that important information.
What is crucial is that the agency follows up this type of information. Iran argues that this information can be downloaded from the internet; however, they did not obtain such information from the internet but rather from A.Q Khan””””s network, which provided nuclear weapons to Libya and North Korea. This is another indication that Iran is working towards acquiring nuclear weapons.