Babak Yektafar is the Editor-in-Chief of Washingtonprism.org. He is a graduate of Farleigh Dickinson University with a B.A. in Communications. From 1999 to 2005, Babak was a producer with C-SPAN network’s national live morning program, Washington Journal.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: The issue of Iran’s nuclear program seems to have boiled down to a showdown, not just between Iran and the U.S. and Europe, but also between the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA says Iran is complying with their process, and an agreement has been reached to resolve outstanding issues. But the IAEA is working under the guidelines of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which says that countries can enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But the U.N. Security Council, driven by the U.S. and some European countries, says that Iran cannot. So who has the final say? Here’s what Iran’s President Ahmadinejad had to say at the United Nations.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (VOICE-OVER TRANSLATION): Previously, they illegally insisted on politicizing the Iranian nation’s nuclear case. But today, because of the resistance of the Iranian nation, the issue is back to the agency, and I officially announce that in our opinion the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed and has turned into an ordinary agency matter.
So, Babak, the issue is closed. We have peace in our time, and life will be just fine. What do you make of this?
BABAK YEKTAFAR, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WASHINGTONPRISM.ORG: Well, I mean, interestingly enough, even though he said now officially it’s closed, they’ve been saying that it’s closed, or I believe Mr. Ahmadinejad, for quite some time now. And the one thing that we need to really also consider into this mix is that the nuclear issue, even though still to this day it’s not way on top of an average Iranian’s mind in terms of the issues that they deal with on a daily basis or think about on a daily basis, but it has a lot of domestic implications as well. It’s not just this international confrontation, but also, as you know, the dynamics of the Iranian politics is such that there is this constant struggle for power there. And the nuclear issue, whether you believe that you have to continue enrichment process, or whether or not, as Mr. Rafsanjani, one of the main political players, has indicated in the past that it is something that they may consider temporarily suspending, it has that implication domestically as well. But the issue of the case being closed as Mr. Ahmadinejad sees it is not new. They have been announcing it for some time now.
JAY: If Iran complies with the IAEA, if they are more transparent, if they allow full inspections, which they say they are going to, is that actually enough to satisfy the United States? Because it seems we’re caught in this quandary: if Iran is to have its own independent ability to generate nuclear energy without relying on another country to provide the enriched uranium, which one can understand, because they don’t ever want to be blackmailed by “well, we won’t give you your enriched uranium this month because we don’t like something you did.” So their sovereignty is connected to the ability to enrich uranium. But the Americans are saying if you have the capacity to enrich uranium, you have the capacity to make a bomb. So these are two positions that, it seems to me, doesn’t matter what the IAEA says, these two positions don’t come together.
YEKTAFAR: Of course a lot of it has to do with the politics of the day, as you know, Paul. And the issue here is that, first of all, right now, the way it stands, there is a process that’s been developed. Iran has said and given a time line that some of the outstanding issues that IAEA has questioned them about, and they’re saying that we haven’t resolved those issues, some residues that we’ve found here and there on military complexes, some blueprints for upscale centrifuges, the P2 and such, these have not been resolved, and it may indicate that behind our backs, you, Iran, are actually developing some sort of capability for a nuclear bomb. So Iran has come out with this new time line, saying that, okay, we’re ready to sit down and talk and resolve these issues. But the thing is that, how much the United States and the West is willing to accept what IAEA may say. Right now, the head of the IAEA, Dr. ElBaradei, has said, while this process is going on, this is one of the first times in a long period of time when Iran has agreed to step down and try to resolve this issue. While this is going on, let’s not put extra pressure on them with further sanctions and a third resolution at the Security Council. Let’s, let this play out. However, United States, and now, of course, with the change of governments in both France and Germany with a more conservative leaning and pro-American governments that are in charge there, the United States is insisting that this is another stalling tactic that Iran has been employing for the past two, three years, and that the fact of the matter is that the resolutions that they have come up with so far, the two resolutions indicate and insist that while this process is going on, Iran must cease any kind of enrichment activity. And Iranians are saying “It is our right. You have not proved that we’re doing anything wrong. It’s just some matter of transparency issues that we’re resolving. And we’re entitled to it. Therefore, we are going to continue enrichment as this process is going on.”
JAY: One sees very little about the IAEA in American media. It’s mostly reported on as a standoff between the U.S., the Security Council, and Iran. Hans Blix was given a much more prominent position in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and eventually the U.S. ignored what Blix was doing and saying anyway. There almost seems to be a preemptive positioning here to marginalize the IAEA. It’s barely part of the discourse if you were only to follow American media.
YEKTAFAR: Well, to be very honest with you, I mean, one gets the sense with this constant confrontation and the fact that the most recent one was between Secretary Rice and Mr. ElBaradei, or the comments at least that Secretary Rice made about Mr. ElBaradei, one gets the sense that unless IAEA comes up with some really damning report saying that regardless of what we do or what we say, Iran is on its path to develop a nuclear bomb and that it should be dealt with. Unless they say that, the United States is not going to be happy. They had the same situation, as you mentioned, with Hans Blix, and we see this pattern here as well. And, again, to be very honest, I think if it really was a matter of Iran’s nuclear program, when it came out that they had this clandestine program, it was early on during the U.S.-Iraq war. And at the time, Iran was more than willing, and the environment was such that they were more than willing to sit down and discuss the issue. If Iran’s nuclear program was the main issue, I think United States could have, would have, and should have solved it some time ago behind closed doors. As we see, they’ve had right now in a better situation than dealing with North Korea.
JAY: If it’s not the issue, what is?
YEKTAFAR: I’m convinced that the United States wants some sort of a change, be it a complete regime change, be it some change within the infrastructure of the power base in the government. They want some sort of a change. They have not, basically, taken that option off, they have not taken the option of military attack off the table. And everything that we see indicates that they tend to blame right now Iran. And as I mentioned before, the kind of reaction that we’ve seen against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip, you would think that he’s the only head of a country visiting New York during this week, during the opening of the U.N. sessions.
JAY: So it’s not so much about the bomb. It’s about regime change.
YEKTAFAR: This is not a country, despite how it’s projected, that is going to develop a bomb knowing that with one bomb there is no way that they can confront Israel or the United States or anyone else for that matter. They’re not going to commit suicide that way, and that’s not the intention. Now, granted, they may want to be at a turnkey position, meaning they may want to reach a level where if they need to go to the next level and create a nuclear warhead, for example, that they’ll be a very short distance away. But they would only do that to use it as a card, as a leverage of some kind, because they do want to project themselves as a power in the region.
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