The 18th African union summit has been graced by a number of high profile politicians outside the African continent. One such politician who participated in the opening session of the African Union Summit is the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Salehi. In his press briefing to the media last week at the newly built African Union Conference Center, the minister had a lot to say about the controversial Iranian Nuclear Program, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Syria and the western involvement in the issues, reports Capital Staff Reporter, Pawlos Belete.
Why speak to the African Union?
Ali Akbar Salehi: We give a lot of importance to the African union. Africa as a whole is a priority in our foreign and national policy. I have indicated this the moment I have assumed my current position and the associated responsibility. I made it very clear and explicit that Africa is an important continent. It is an emerging continent. It has all the possibilities for a bright future. The people of Africa have awakened. There is a new wave of awakening in the northern African countries. This is an indication that the governments in the African countries will soon awaken, in the northern part emanating from the will of the people and this is very important.
The integration of the government and the people and the consolidation between the government and the people in which ever country, if it is realized, that country will be immune from any outside interference. So, we hope the best for the continent of Africa. And we are ready as a country that has stood beyond the test of time for so many thousand of years. We are an ancient country. But more specifically, we have passed three decades through sanctions, limitations, and constraints that have been imposed on us. We have accumulated many experiences, we have paid with our dear hearts for our independence, and we are ready to share these experiences with our brotherly countries in the African continent. Of course, theses experiences could cover many areas including industry, agriculture, technology, health, medicine, pharmaceutical, and the like. I am here to extend these offers of assistance to many of my counter parts from African countries.
Although, we are extending these assistances very humbly, we do not claim to be an advanced country. But, in fact, we are a country that can best serve the purpose of the transfer of technology to countries in Africa because the gap between us and the African countries are not as wide as African countries and the West, technologically speaking. So, here, I officially assert and declare our readiness to extend our assistance in important areas especially in the infrastructure area to the African countries.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has arrived in Iran. What is your message to them?
Yes, a high level delegation from the IAEA arrived in Tehran last night [January, 28, 2012]. We previously agreed for the visit of this high level delegation. Iran has always indicated that its nuclear activities are peaceful, that Iran is a faithful member of MPT. It is a committed member of the IAEA. We have done nothing that would undermine our commitment to the MPT and IAEA statue. And we have done all our best and continue to do so to be transparent; there is nothing to hide. We have already agreed with the IAEA a few years back when they indicated that they have six outstanding issues concerning our nuclear activities through a modality. Iran was able to answer the six points raised to the satisfaction of the IAEA. This is reflected in their report but later the IAEA came up with other allegations called the ‘alleged allegation’ that concerns our activities in the missile industry. They claimed that Iran is developing war heads capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But right from the beginning, we have indicated explicitly that Iran is never ever after nuclear weapons. Based on the tenets and the principle of Islam that we adhere to, we have expressed through our leader very explicitly this matter and that we denounce the procurement and the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, or of holding nuclear weapons. And therefore, we have nothing to hide. In fact, one of the testimonies to the fact that we are so firm in our stance vis-à-vis our nuclear activity is that there nothing dubious and ambiguous in our peaceful action.
How serious is the Kurdish rhetoric between yourself and the west about eminent threat of attacks or potential retaliation on the Strait of Homuz? And what is your message to the west?
Concerning the rhetoric on the Strait of Homuz, I have officially stated our position that strait of Homuz is important; it is a life line not only to the literal states and for Iran but also for the international community. Iran before any other country in the region is very sensitive to the security and stability of the region, specifically the strait of Homuz. We have always expressed and we have shown in practice that Iran is the major peace keeper of this important region. You know, the northern section of this straight of the Persian Gulf as a whole is Iran and the southern part is many other literal states. So, the security of this region, for nothing else but for the self interest of Iran and it’s the national interest, it is very important to keep it safe and secure so that everybody would benefit from it. The one thing that we contest is that we do not agree with countries outside the region to decide who benefits from the graces of or the privileges of such an important place. So, this is what we are refuting in a very strong manner. We don’t want to see countries from outside the region to state that this country has the right to utilize and that other countries do not have the right. The security of the area is a collective security. It is a security for all. And this is what we are looking for.
There are a number of human right violation accusations in Iran especially after the 2009 election where international human right organizations have been reporting on the arrest of the members of the oppositions group. How do you take such accusation and what is the impact of such an accusation on the upcoming election and the process of building democracy in Iran?
Concerning the human right accusation, I cannot say anything beyond inviting you to pay a visit to Iran and take your own judgment from near. This is because the western media can form the public opinion in the way they wish. About two nights ago I was watching one of these western satellites TV reporting on a story I knew very well. The reality behind the story I noticed for that particular satellite TV is that it very dubiously and intelligently changes the story to something 80 percent different from the reality on the ground. And they were able to sell that. Since I knew about this particular case because I have lived through that event, I said to myself what power a media can have. Nowadays it is the media who decides who wins and who loses. It is becoming less and less effective to have a military power. The soft power is over taking the hard power.
So in the same way, the human right issue has been exaggerated by the western media. Iran has made a revolution about thirty years ago. People came to the street and they chose their own government. The government in Iran now has emanated from the will of the people. People and the government have now integrated; they are not two separate entities. Why do we see uprisings in different parts of the world including North Africa and the Middle East but not in Iran? That is simply because they are two separate entities in those countries; the government and the people. They are two isolated islands. But such is not the case in Iran. So, how can a government that emanated from the will of the people undermine, go against the right of its own people? Of course, this does not mean that a country with a population of 75 million people is impeccable. Such a record is idealistic. But can you tell me one country that can claim a perfect human right record?
Is there any plan to receive an incentive to halt your nuclear enrichment program?
No. Enrichment is our legitimate right according to the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty). Nobody is asking us to suspend our enrichment program. What they are saying is that we can enrich up to 100 percent according to the NPT but we limited ourselves voluntarily to five percent because we needed the fuel for Busher Power Plant with which enrichment does not exceed five percent. Then we wanted a reactor for our research center in Tehran which needed 20 percent enriched uranium. We didn’t think at the time nor had the intention to do the 20 percent enrichment although we had the capacity to do so. We wanted the IAEA twenty years ago to supply us the 20 percent enriched fuel for the research reactor in Tehran. But then they refused and started to put a lot of conditions.
Do you think that a war will breakout in Iran like that of Iraq if Iran is unable to come to terms with the west?
No. I don’t think so. Iran is a great country. If they [the west] were able to inflict real harm to Iran they would have done so by now. They don’t give Iran time simply because of their sympathy for the people of Iran. No, they know that Iran is a regional power; it is an important player internationally. Otherwise, Iran would not be an agenda of so many western countries. Whenever they meet each other the first item in their agenda is Iran, what Iran has done.
You have talked in length about uprising in the North Africa and the Middle East. What is your country’s position about what is going on in Syria?
Concerning Syria, we have been expressing our views from the on set of the crisis. Our position is similar with that of any other country in a crisis. If there is an uprising of people, there is legitimate demand. The government should meet the legitimate demand of the people. And President Bashar al Asad has promised and soon he will be holding what he has expressed; a referendum on the new constitutions. They are revising their constitution; this is what is usually done in any country in a bid to incorporate the demands of the people.
Free and fair election, having multiparty system are essential elements in any government that would like to see its legitimacy coming from the people. So, they should have free and fair election, the right constitution that allows other political parties to carry on their political activity. This is what he has promised. But what bothers us is why so much emphasis is made on Syria by the media while many other countries are going through the same dilemma but they are not really giving the same attention as that of Syria. We condemn foreign interferences. The Arab League sent those observers to Syria and the observers report was balanced but once they saw the report is a balanced one they started refuting them. The report says both sides have involved in the atrocities. So, the question is why not allow the observers to do their jobs and try to give time to the present government of Syria to do its reforms.