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Interview with Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA

Uncategorized Comments (15)

CASMII board member speaks with Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Dr. Ali Asghar Soltanieh. The interview reveals an interesting point-of-view on Iran’s nuclear energy program which is not usually considered in the US media.

Dr. Soltanieh explains the reasons behind Iran’s determination to develop an indigenous uranium enrichment capability and why Iran believes the countries pursuing or relying on nuclear weapons are making a mistake. He also gives his viewpoint on how international institutions such as the UN Security Council are in practice used as instruments of political pressure by a select few member states, ultimately undermining the authority and credibility of those institutions.

A podcast is available here. See transcript below:

Mohammad Kamaali: Thank you Mr Ambassador for agreeing to talk to us. If you
could please briefly explain the history of Iran’s nuclear programme, where
it started, what stage is it at present and what are your future plans.

Dr Ali Asghar Soltanieh: It is simple, Iran’s nuclear programme did not
start yesterday for it to be stopped tomorrow as it is today demanded by
some countries like the US. Nuclear activities in Iran go back to half a
century ago, before and after the [1979] revolution. In fact, I myself
started my work before the revolution in the Atomic Energy Organisation
(AEO) and I have witnessed the double standard approach before and after the

A very simple question that is always addressed to us is what is the
justification for Iran to have nuclear energy while it has huge amounts of
natural resources of oil and gas. This question was never raised before the
revolution when the [oil] resources were much more than today and the
population was about half. [Today] the added value of the oil bid for
application in our chemical and petrochemical industry is much more because
we now have a lot of advancements in this area which we can use for
producing a great amount of by-products. So the added value is much more
than thirty years ago, in addition to the price of oil which is of course
increasing everyday.

Therefore there are good technical and financial justifications for having
also nuclear energy as an option. But at the same time we have never
envisioned an ambitious programme so as to consider nuclear energy as the
only option. We have always thought of the policy of diversifying energy
resources. We have used a technical/scientific program in the IAEA namely
the VASP programme; with which countries use all their data to find out in a
scientific way what share nuclear energy can play for them. Using this
programme we have come to the conclusion that in the next twenty years,
roughly by 2020, we will have up to 20,000 megawatts from nuclear energy.
Right now in our national grid we have about 35,000 megawatts and if Bushehr
becomes operational, the share of nuclear energy will be 1,000 out of 35,000
megawatts. But given the constant growth of industry and naturally for many
other uses across the country, the energy demand is increasing. Therefore
20,000 megawatts by the year 2020 again will be perhaps a small portion of
this sort of energy. It is not 400% therefore it is not that ambitious, it
is a more realistic approach so that step-by-step we can have a gradual
contribution from nuclear power.

Now the issue which I think has been made so much politicised but is mainly
technical is when you have nuclear energy and you want to have nuclear
energy for different applications including nuclear power then the issue is
that you need reactors and reactors need fuel and the fuel should be

MK: Could you explain what those other purposes might be?

AS: Yes, in fact I have been twice the director of nuclear research centre
in Tehran (NRC). One of the main applications of nuclear energy is in
producing various radioisotopes for medical, agricultural and industrial
purposes. Right now over 200 hospitals and clinics are using the
radioisotopes produced in Tehran’s 5 megawatts reactor; and of course in
addition to these applications the sources also could be used for many
leakage applications in industry as well as agriculture of course.

We do have for example a gamma radiation centre in Tehran. Everyday trucks
of the chemical by-products and in fact the material used in the medical
applications are sterilised by gamma radiation by cold sources there. There
are various applications which are increasing everyday not only in Iran but
in the whole world.

Therefore for all these we come back to the nuclear material used for that
purpose, for either radioactive sources or reactor. But then the question is
you need fuel and the fuel should be assured. The main question is why we
started to choose our own way for enrichment in order to produce the fuel

I explain this to you very briefly; I am sure that your colleagues will be
convinced because this is part of history and these are well documented
facts. First of all we have a confidence deficit for the last thirty years
particularly after the revolution when Western countries immediately stopped
their nuclear cooperation [with Iran.] We paid $2m before the revolution in
order to have new fuel for the Tehran reactor which produces mainly
radioisotopes. The Americans neither gave the fuel nor the $2m that they
received. Therefore when I was the Ambassador to the IAEA 26 years ago, I
raised the issue of an urgent need for fuel with the Director General at the
time, Hans Blix, and asked the IAEA to do something as intermediation for
this problem. The IAEA in fact wrote to different potential suppliers,
reflecting our request; unfortunately none of them agreed to even give the
fuel for Tehran’s research reactor which has been under the IAEA’s
full-scope Safeguards.

MK: Were they obliged to accept Iran’s request at all?

AS: Yes, because this is under the IAEA. First of all the US was legally
obliged because they had a contract; they received $2m out of $2.3m before
the revolution. The fuel was ready to ship and they stopped the shipment of
that fuel. Finally when the Argentineans had success in enrichment, they
announced their readiness to give fuel to Iran under the auspices of the
IAEA and that is what happened. Therefore the Tehran reactor right now is
working with Argentinean fuel and this was in fact a good sign of
South-South cooperation.

Now I give this as one example and there are many examples both bilaterally
and multilaterally that have affected us. I want you to consider these and
then everybody could easily judge if they were in Iran’s position whether or
not they would have taken the same decisions [as we did] . This is one
reason. The second reason is this: Iran was part of Eurodif, an enrichment
company in France, to which the Shah gave $1bn as a loan thirty years ago.
Right now that I am giving this interview, Iran holds 10% of the shares of
that company, but we have not even received 1 gram of uranium from that
factory, uranium which is being produced under the full-scope of [the IAEA]
safeguard. That is also another reason why Iran was disappointed and
frustrated, and therefore it had to decide otherwise.

The next issue of course is the Bushehr power plant which is a tragedy in
fact among all industrial projects of the world. It was supposed to be in
operation almost twenty eight years ago and after thirty years it is still
not in operation. We spent another $1bn [in dealing] with the Russians and
it is still not in operation. And I want to inform you that, while we thank
the Russians for their cooperation, they have only given the fuel so far for
the first load and the first year. They have not provided any guarantees on
paper for the fuel in the next five or ten years. Therefore there is no
guarantee for even the Bushehr power plant.

Having all these in mind and with this background we had no choice but to
have our own enrichment and fuel production. However, there was also another
important development in the international arena which in fact pushed Iran
to make this decision. In the IAEA there was a committee for guaranteeing
nuclear supply. That committee collapsed in 1987 after seven years of
negotiation. It means that after seven years of negotiation, they were not
able to have one piece of paper as a legally binding assurance for
guaranteeing nuclear fuel.

MK: Was there any particular reason for that?

AS: The reason was because the industrialized countries did not want to give
that assurance and this is their historical mistake. This was 1987 and if
you refer to the IAEA website and reports you will see that the IAEA has
reported that Iran in fact decided to go after enrichment by coincidence
after 1987. It means that when we lost all hope in international
arrangements and also the bilateral problems we had after the revolution
when [our partners] did not cooperate, altogether pushed Iran and Iranian
decision-makers to the position that there is no other choice but to go for
indigenous enrichment and fuel production. So we have designed the Natanz
nuclear plant so as to produce, if it works annually with 54,000 P1 type
centrifuges, the fuel required for the annual consumption of the Bushehr
nuclear plant

MK: Is the Natanz nuclear plant under IAEA inspections?

AS: Natanz is under the full-scope of IAEA inspections and beyond . In order
to remove any ambiguity and provide 100% transparency guarantee, we agreed
and negotiated a legal text with the IAEA and have accepted further legal
obligations. These two legal texts are called Facility Attachment and
Safeguard Approach for Natanz Enrichment. It means that the operator
inspectors do not need to discuss each time what to see, how to see, where
to install or not to install cameras.. Therefore this is the legal
obligation that Iran has accepted that everything is under the most
intrusive and robust inspections. Apart from that we have also agreed that
the agency could have short notice snapshot inspections, within two hours or
so. This is of course maximum transparency and assurance.

MK: Do these measures apply to other nuclear sites across Iran as well?

AS: Yes, in fact this is the case. Since it was established over 35 years
ago, the Tehran research reactor has been under continuous Agency
surveillance and there is also a Facility Attachment for Tehran research
reactor as well as in Isfahan and other [sites]. Therefore even in Isfahan
which is a Uranium conversion [facility] we do have IAEA cameras. In fact I
took the ambassadors of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), G77 and the Arab
League to Isfahan and in that visit I invited and permitted over 100
international journalists to also accompany me to visit all parts of the
Isfahan [facility]; they were able to see with their own eyes the IAEA
cameras installed in different corners of that facility. Similar facilities
in other countries do not have these cameras and therefore we have accepted
additional measures to make sure that everything is under the full-scope

MK: So what has the IAEA or its Director General expressed concern about,
especially in its latest report?

AS: We implemented the Additional Protocol for two and a half years
voluntarily but a historical mistake was made by the US and a couple of
other Western countries that after so much cooperation and having even
suspended these activities, they conveyed this file to New York. Of course
it was not officially referred because it was not following the provision of
the statute of the IAEA Safeguards.

In fact immediately after the involvement of the UN Security Council in this
issue, which is in fact an unlawful involvement, the Iranian Parliament
passed a law restricting the government to only accept the Comprehensive
Safeguards of the NPT. Therefore we were not going to discuss the issues
beyond our legal obligations such as the so called “outstanding issues.”
However after one year that we stopped these discussions we as a matter of
fact showed our maximum flexibility and concession. Under the work-plan
which was negotiated and agreed with the IAEA we decided to resolve those
issues. But of course the Agency asked not only Iran but many other
countries to sign, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol. Because of
the unfortunate decision to get the UN Security Council involved and the
ongoing resolutions that they are passing against Iran, one can not expect a
parliament in a democratic society to ignore this fact and pass and ratify
the Additional Protocol. I want to say that the Director General [of the
IAEA] has reported that over one hundred countries at present do not
implement the Additional Protocol and therefore this is not only about Iran.

MK: The latest report of the IAEA contains some issues mentioned in the
media especially with regards to the contents of that particular laptop and
there are the explosives and detonator tests, missile re-entry vehicles and
the uranium metal document. These are the things that have been raised and
branded as outstanding questions with regards to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Some of it has been answered in the work-plan, some of it even contradicts
the actual work-plan. How does Iran view the latest report in particular
with regards to the track record of its relationship with the IAEA?

AS: The work-plan, which we agreed with the IAEA [Aug. 07], has resolved all
six issues, called the outstanding issues, and the Director General has
clearly reported to the whole world that they are resolved in the past

One issue which was not categorized as an outstanding issue was the issue of
“alleged studies.” That is the allegation by the US that there were some
studies on Green Salt, high explosives and re-entry missiles. And as you
correctly mentioned it was the issue the so-called “laptop”. After the first
process i.e. the six outstanding issues which were all nuclear-related
matters and within the domain of the IAEA, was over, in a compromise we
accepted to also discuss these matters. Because missiles or explosives are
not within the contents of the statute of the IAEA. These are outside the
domain of the IAEA. But we showed flexibility and we said OK let us have the
documents, we will study them and give our assessment.

In the work-plan it was clearly mentioned that the Agency was obliged to
deliver this document and we were only obliged to give our assessment of it.
No discussions, no interviews, not even visits. That was the agreement and
understanding with the IAEA. The high officials and the head of the legal
department, policy making and technical safeguard departments were also
present when this text was finalised. It is interesting that in spite of the
Americans’ march against Mr ElBaradei and the IAEA secretariat about the
[IAEA-Iran] work-plan, this document was supported almost unanimously in the
IAEA and even in the Board of Governors it was discussed and many European
countries and others welcomed the IAEA for having achieved this work-plan.

Therefore this work-plan has an important status and both sides should
fulfil their obligations. Unfortunately the Americans prevented the IAEA to
fulfil its obligation by not delivering the documents and not permitting the
IAEA to deliver the documents to Iran. But again we showed flexibility and
we accepted that the documents could only be shown so that we could put an
end to this endless process. Finally [the documents] were shown and we
explained comprehensively why these papers are forged and baseless. We had
many meetings, over 200 pages of explanation have been given in a
confidential manner to the IAEA and unfortunately the Americans are still
trying to keep this file [open] by continuing to make ceaseless allegations.

MK: How were these documents shown to you? Was it in a paper format? Was it
digital? Did they have any confidential seals?

AS: That is an important point you raised. In the first round of our
meeting, they simply brought some sheets of papers in hard copy and said
that we were not allowed to take them outside the room or make a copy. Then
in the second round the secretariat was further embarrassed and they
apologised to Iran and said that this time the Americans had not even
permitted [the IAEA] to obtain or show hard copies [of the documents].
Therefore they brought us electronic versions, which were shown on a
computer laptop screen. This has created a lot of problems for the
secretariat and Iran; the Director General has in fact complained about the
US actions creating impediments in the work, and in the last report he has
indeed criticised this.

MK: Doesn’t this play with the credibility of the IAEA as a whole and if it
does, is it the case that the IAEA has to do whatever the US asks it to do?

AS: That is exactly the concern reflected in the Non-Alignment Movement
statement. Here over one hundred countries expressed their serious concern
and dissatisfaction and objection to this status quo. That one country is
somehow interfering in the impartial and professional work of the IAEA. It
is absolutely a violation of the spirit and the letter of [the IAEA] statute
that one state has allegations against another state and gives documents to
the IAEA but dictates what to do with it and how to do it and when to do it.
This is 100% against the statutory obligations of each member state. That is
exactly what happened.

Apart from these issues, among all the documents and material received from
the United States against Iran, those essentially forged documents and
communications, none of them have any seals of “confidential” or “highly
confidential” or “top secret”. How can one imagine that a country has had
some sort of a Manhattan nuclear weapon project and all these communications
between the Ministry of Defence and all other organisations related to it
lack any level of confidentiality on such papers and that this is just
normal communication? While they have put some secret codes in order to show
that they are some secret projects, at the same time one of the sheets in
the third line in parenthesis explains that 111 or 12 or whatever, that this
code is about a “nuclear weapon warhead”! This is ridiculous; and there are
numerous points like this that we have fully explained to the agency

In the meeting we had in Tehran, every problem, every shortcoming and
inconsistency was thoroughly discussed and reflected. Therefore this matter
is in fact over and I just want to conclude by saying that for the last five
years there have been over twenty seven allegations about military sites in
Iran and at least 248 samples have been taken from military sites and have
been fully analysed which proved that none has any evidence of nuclear
weapons or nuclear material. Therefore they have been baseless.

MK: Do you expect any more UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, given
that IAEA reports have been in the passed used as justification for UNSC

AS: No, in fact there were some attempts in this direction by the US before
June in the Board of Governors. For almost two weeks they made much effort
to lobby and convince many member states by talking to their capitals. The
US mission in Vienna tried hard to convince the member states to have a
resolution in the IAEA against Iran. Based even on that report they were
unable to succeed. It means that the member states of the IAEA, who are the
same members of the United Nations, disagree [with the US] because they do
not assess this report as negative, because over ten paragraphs are very
positive in the report particularly the paragraphs which repeat that there
is no evidence of diversion of nuclear material and facility, towards
military nuclear purposes and that all nuclear material are accounted for.
This is a very important message.

MK: What about the UN Security Council itself and if another sanctions
resolution is passed what would be Iran’s likely response?

AS: Well I have to say that these resolutions have been in fact
counter-productive. It has in fact undermined to a great extent the
authority of the IAEA and it has not had any effect on our nuclear
activities. We have even speeded up and tried to show our determination that
by sanctions or resolutions or threats of military attack, Iran will not
give up its inalienable right for these activities. But at the same time we
follow a policy which makes the US administration very disappointed. In
spite of the disappointment and frustration about the UN Security Council
resolutions which have been in fact very negative on the UN [‘s image] and
proved that the UNSC is used as an instrument against countries, Iran
decided not to react to reduce or halt its cooperation with the IAEA.
Therefore despite those resolutions we continue our cooperation with the
IAEA within our legal obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards of the
NPT agreement and therefore we neither suspended enrichment nor we suspended
[our cooperation with the IAEA]. That is exactly the policy which has upset
the US administration. Because they love to hear the news that Iran has
decided either to stop or reduce the inspections or to withdraw from NPT and
we have not done either.

MK: Does Iran have any incentive to go after Nuclear weapons given Israel’s
presence and Pakistan’s and other countries around Iran?

AS: The answer is very simply, no. It is not a slogan, I have some logic for
it. First of all there are religious fatwas or decrees that we are against
weapons of mass destruction. We have proved this by our action during the
eight years of imposed war by Saddam where Iraq used chemical weapons and
over 100,000 people were affected; over 30,000 are still under treatment.
Everybody knows that Iran had at that time considerable advanced chemical
and petrochemical technology. We could have produced and used [such
weapons.] We didn’t do that. This is a clear example at a time when we were
facing to be or not to be.

The second reason is if a country like Iran or other developing countries
decide to have nuclear weapons, how many can they have? Maybe a couple of
them? They cannot have 1000s of nuclear bombs in order to compete for
example with the United States. Then the quantity would be the crucial
factor in competing with the adversaries where they are.

Therefore nuclear weapons create vulnerability for the country. As soon as a
country obtains nuclear weapons they will have a problem because they cannot
compete in this way. We know in the cold war the Soviet Union and the US
were just competing over the number of their warheads because it was this
quantity that was playing the role. Therefore this is a historical mistake
for any country to go after nuclear weapons. We do not need it.

Apart from this, the [Iranian] revolution for the last 30 years since its
triumph has had one simple message; that the Islamic Republic and this
democratic system that has been established after the revolution could only
be sustained by popular support and the unity of the people who play their
role for the sustainable and continuous progress of the country. Therefore
this is the main thing the government respects namely to have the popular
support and also to make every effort that our cooperation with all
countries of the whole world is promoted every day. And that we will always
be committed to international laws. That is why you have never heard any
news that Iran has had any problems with its neighbours.

MK: Finally I want to touch upon the way forward. How do you see this
current crisis -if it is a real crisis, if it is even a nuclear crisis- can
be resolved? There are various ideas floating such as a joint consortium
[for enrichment], you’ve got the temporary suspension of enrichment, the
Additional Protocol ideas. How do you think this can be resolved?

AS: I will try to be very concise. We are going to continue our cooperation
with the IAEA. All our activities are under routine inspection. We have
already given our explanations to the IAEA on the last issue of so-called
alleged studies; and that if there are any questions or ambiguities for the
IAEA or even member states we are well prepared to answer them because we
are transparent and we want to make sure that all member states are
confident that everything is for peaceful purposes.

At the same time and with the same mentality we welcome all member states in
parallel to work with the IAEA to come to the negotiating table. Negotiating
table means they can come and we can discuss the common elements about
international issues and many things that concern all of us. International
security, regional security, international cooperation, energy, energy
safety and many other issues. That is why we have given our package which
includes all these elements and we were open minded and we have received the
5+1 or the so called 3+3 package. We are studying these carefully. I
personally hope and I am optimistic that if the 5+1 showed they have a
political will and they want to prove their political and good intention,
they should immediately come to the negotiating table without any
preconditions and we can have two proposals on the table for discussion.

MK: Would Iran be prepared to accept the Additional Protocol if Iran’s file
is returned from the UN Security Council to the board of the IAEA?

AS: Well of course this question should be addressed to the Parliament. But
I can say that the file has not officially been referred to [the UNSC]. But
let’s say if the UNSC stopped its illegal involvement, engagement or
interference, this of course will help and the environment will be better.
Because as long as the UN Security Council is involved and passes
resolutions, they just continue to poison the environment and put the spirit
of cooperation in jeopardy. Therefore if they will do this, that is a right
step in the right direction. In the Board of Governors last week I said that
if this issue is removed from the agenda of the board and if the [IAEA]
Safeguards is implemented in a routine manner then Iran will show more
flexibility to take voluntary steps such as those which were discussed
during the visits of the Director General to Tehran. So we will show
[flexibility] and this is part of our Iranian culture with thousands of
years of civilisation. We cannot accept threats, intimidation and
humiliation but if there is a civilised environment and a language of
dialogue and a constructive environment then we will show flexibility in
order to make sure that the other side also will have enough confidence.
Therefore the building of confidence is a two way process. They make
accusations against Iran over some issues or in the past over confidence
deficit, while in fact we have a large amount of records regarding
confidence deficit vis-à-vis Western countries particularly the US and some
of the European countries including EU3, specifically the UK and France.
They have done much [wrong] against the Iranian nation and this is a time
for them to compensate.

MK: The sanctions resolutions passed were initially based on the concern
that Iran may divert its nuclear program towards a military goal; but the
IAEA has already confirmed that this is not the case. Perhaps that would
mean the previous sanctions would have to be removed and future ones should
not be passed. Why do you think the Security Council is still willing to
accept the US agenda of pushing Iran into isolation? And -I know this may be
a difficult question- but do you think that the comments of the Iranian
President regarding Israel has helped this process, this push for sanctions
against Iran?

AS: Two different things. First of all, on the resolutions they tried to
justify it by saying it is because of the “outstanding issues.” The Director
General has always said that this issue is in New York not because of
verification or any problems that Iran has created; Iran is in fact
continuing its work and the Director General has continuously reported that
the Agency is able to continue its verification. Therefore the involvement
of the UNSC in New York is not because of a problem between the IAEA and
Iran within the statute of the work. Iran is not like the case of other
countries such as North Korea who withdrew from NPT and therefore
technically and legally this matter was passed and referred to UN Security
Council. We are continuing our work with the IAEA and routine inspections
continue. But they then raised the issue of outstanding issues. Now that the
outstanding issues are resolved and the Director General has reported in
March also that all six outstanding issued are resolved, there is no
technical justification and any merit for suspension. Because they asked to
suspend enrichment until the Agency and Iran resolved these outstanding
issues. That is why the [idea of] suspension has lost its technical and even
political merits that the proponents of the resolutions were raising.

Secondly, we have to bear in mind that since the victory of the [1979]
revolution, our people have been echoing to the whole world that they oppose
any mentality that is against humanity. Genocide, discrimination,
aggression, apartheid and Zionism, these are all the categories that the
people of Iran have said they are committed not to accept and they will not
support this kind of mentality. That is the reason immediately after the
revolution, Iran in fact stopped its diplomatic relation with the Apartheid
regime of South Africa and the Zionist regime of Israel. After the
revolution, we did not even stop our diplomatic relationship with the US
which was the first adversary, having many issues with our people from the
coup [of 1953] and onward interventions in our country. It means that was
our first priority and as soon as the apartheid mentality was removed and a
popular government was in place, we supported the South Africans and we now
have the best relationship with the South African people and the South
African government. Therefore that is the problem and the message of the
Iranian officials and the Iranian people is that we cannot accept that a
group of people occupy a place and make many innocent people homeless. This
is a matter of principle against humanity, that was the whole issue. At the
same time we have clearly mentioned and our supreme leader also had a
message over four years ago that if people there -in occupied Palestine-
Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, who are all followers of divine
religions come together and follow a democratic referendum and choose a
democratic government, then we will support that. That is exactly what we
want. The homeless Palestinians also have the right to live there and this
is the minimum that we expect. Because this is a right of human beings to
have a home and to live there in peace and in equal footing. We are always
for peace and prosperity in that region, the Middle East and also in the
whole world.

MK: Thank you Mr Ambassador for speaking to us.

AS: Thank you indeed.

Irancove @ June 30, 2008

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