Contextual Content

Is Iran a "threat to peace and security?"

Sahimi: The rhetoric from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel has been condemned by many political factions within Iran’s ruling group. There is similar rhetoric on the Western side about regime change in Iran. Both sides are playing to a certain domestic audience.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next part of our interview with Professor Sahimi, where we discuss Resolution 362. There’s a very similar resolution to the 362 working its way through Congress. It’s Resolution 580, which is working its way through the Senate. And here is a line from that resolution. It says that "allowing the government of Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability would pose a grave threat to international peace and security." Clearly, if this is true, that would justify some kind of action. I guess the question is: is there any evidence that it’s true?

PROF. MUHAMMAD SAHIMI, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Obviously there isn’t, because if there was such evidence, then the United Nations Security Council would have pointed out that threat, and it would have [been] included in its rationale for issuing the three resolutions against Iran. But the United Nations Security Council failed to do that, because the fact of the matter is, at least at this stage, at this point when we are talking, there is no evidence that Iran’s nuclear program poses any threat to the peace and international security, and therefore what the Senate resolution says has no basis in reality.

JAY: Well, one of the arguments has been making use of many statements by President Ahmadinejad about they’ve interpreted as "wiping Israel off the face of the earth." Other interpretations have been "the Israeli state will be doomed to the pages of history." Iran refuses to recognize Israel. These are some of the major arguments that are presented. What do you make of that?

SAHIMI: Well, first of all, what President Ahmadinejad has said about Israel is unfortunate. It’s deplorable. He should not have said something like that. Iran is a member of the United Nations, and a member of United Nations should not use such language against another member of United Nations, namely, Israel. Secondly, those statements have been condemned not only at the international level, but also even within Iran by various political groups and factions. Third, what he said was even not of his own making—he just repeated an old statement by Ayatollah Khomeini, who had made that statement 30 years earlier during the Iranian Revolution. And at that time, it provoked no international outcry, no international reaction whatsoever. Fourth, what he said was mistranslated. And what he said was, and he quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, that some day, Israel will disappear from the face of the time.

JAY: Both John McCain and Barack Obama describe Iran as a grave threat. McCain maybe goes a little further, but not much further. Obama’s pretty much with him. But McCain talks about the phrase "existential threat to Israel" over and over again. Is this just rhetoric? What’s to it?

SAHIMI: Just as what President Ahmadinejad said against Israel was a rhetoric for internal consumption and it was even mistranslated, what John McCain is saying and to a lesser degree what Senator Obama is saying are just rhetoric. There is no threat by Iran posed against the existence of Israel. Many Iranian leaders have said in the past that whatever agreement Palestinians reach with Israel is acceptable to us. In fact, during eight years that Mohammad Khatami was Iranian president that was Iran’s official position, that whatever solution Palestinians reach with Israel is acceptable to Iran. So these are all rhetoric on both sides that are unfortunate on both sides. I condemn what President Ahmadinejad said.

JAY: The Resolution 580 essentially says that Iran is still in fact speeding up its nuclear program. For example, Resolution 580 says, "The government of Iran continues to expand the number of centrifuges at its enrichment facility and to enrich uranium in defiance of three binding United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities." So is Iran violating three United Nations Security Council sanctions?

SAHIMI: Well, if we accept the legality of the United Nations Security Council, then, yes, Iran is violating those resolutions. I’m not speaking for Iranian government, but the Iranian government position is that those resolutions are illegal. I agree with them for the reason that I explained a few minutes ago, that these are illegal, namely, mostly because the United Nations Security Council and the board of governor of International Atomic Energy Agency did not do what they were supposed to do, and therefore there is no legal basis for them. So it all depends on how we interpret these resolutions. If these resolutions are legal and binding, yes, Iran is violating them. If they are illegal, then no member state has any obligation to carry out the provisions of an illegal resolution.

JAY: And I guess the United States is not the exemplary model for following UN Security Council, and certainly nor is Israel. In the next segment of our interview, we’ll drill further into Resolution 362 and 580 with Professor Sahimi. Please join us.

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