U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that there is "pretty good evidence" that Iran is involved with attacks on American troops in Iraq. Robert Siegel talks with the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N., Javad Zarif. Zarif wrote an op-ed in Thursday's New York Times criticizing the American strategy toward Iran.
Transcript of the interview:
ROBERT SIEGEL: Joining us from New York is Ambassador Javad Zarif, who is Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Zarif wrote in the New York Times op-ed page that the U.S. is fabricating evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq, scape-goating Iran. He likens this to imaginary threats imputed to Iraq before the war there.
Ambassador Zarif, welcome to the program.
AMBASSADOR JAVAD ZARIF: Good afternoon to you.
MR. SIEGEL: You heard Secretary Gates – that bit of him talking about those devices, which the Pentagon calls EFPs – explosively formed projectiles. He says they are still tracking serial numbers and other tell-tale signs of manufacture. But let me ask you: Are there such Iranian-made weapons in Iraq?
AMB. ZARIF: No, Iran, has no interest in providing weapons to any insurgents groups in Iraq. But the problem is that the United States has decided on a policy and is trying to find or fabricate evidence if it cannot find one — and I believe it hasn't been able to find an evidence – in order to substantiate and corroborate that policy. And that seems to be at the bottom of this problem, and it's an alarming problem because if you're looking for a crisis, then you're certainly not looking for solutions.
MR. SIEGEL: But the U.S. says – and I believe Secretary Gates said this today – that it has swept up some Iranians in Iraq; not because it was looking for Iranians, but because it was looking for the source of those explosives – and it found Iranians.
AMB. ZARIF: I think again that the United States has violated every norm, has violated Iraqi sovereignty, has abducted Iranians, has held Iranians hostage in order to find some sort of evidence in order to show that there is some background to the policy that they have followed or tried to follow, and they haven't found anything.
And if you listen carefully to Secretary Gates, you see that he is not even himself convinced that they –
MR. SIEGEL: He said – he said he's waiting for information about serial numbers and –
AMB. ZARIF: Yeah, but they have already decided about the policy; that's the problem — before the – even ascertaining for themselves whether they have any evidence.
MR. SEIGEL: You wrote in the New York Times op-ed-page piece that the Persian Gulf is in dire need of a truly inclusive arrangement for security and cooperation.
Does Iran regard the United States, carrier groups and all, as an appropriate partner in such an arrangement, or does Tehran think the U.S. has no legitimate role in the region?
AMB. ZARIF: Well, I don't think the sending of carrier groups is an indication of U.S. interest in security. That's an indication of U.S. interest in pursuing the old policy of imposition and force projection in the region. And if you look at the history of U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf, including the downing of an Iranian civil airliner, you will see that in no period of time the presence of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf has been the source of security. In fact, they have achieved the – exactly the opposite.
MR. SIEGEL: But the U.S. says that the carrier group – the second one – is there to reassure U.S. friends in the region, and you know that for years the U.S. has protested the downing of the airliner was a mistake, was not a purposeful act of war.
AMB. ZARIF: Well, whether it was a mistake or not, the presence of so many warships in such a small waterway is prone to accidents, if it was actually an accident and if you take what the United States has said for granted, at face value. Then even accidents can occur when you have such a large number of forces that are not necessary there. And it's ironic that the United States goes about frightening people about a non-existent Iranian threat and then sends forces in order to reassure people that this threat that didn't exist in the first place will not harm them.
MR. SIEGEL: But you have written and you are talking about Americans fabricating a threat from Iran. Today Secretary Gates said – he said, "Over the past few weeks I don't know how many times Secretary Rice and the president and I have said we have no intention of attacking Iran." He spoke of a period of trying to ratchet down rhetoric that might be heard as incendiary.
Do you hear any moderation in U.S. language about your country?
AMB. ZARIF: I believe that the increase in tone of U.S. threats against Iran has backfired, and they – and I hope that the administration will come to realize that it's not the right policy, and if there is any moderation in language, and I hope it is followed by moderation in policy and in fact a review and reconsideration of a policy that has brought nothing but disaster to our region. That would be a welcome sign.
We haven't seen any actual indication of that, but the moderation in tone would be a good step in the right direction.
MR. SIEGEL: Another matter – Reuters reports today that the International Atomic Energy Agency will recommend a substantial cut in technical aid for Iran. They say that Iran has failed to prove its experimental uranium enrichment facility (is) for generating electricity; not for making a weapon.
Iran's negotiator called in sick today to a conference that was supposed to deal with some of these things.
AMB. ZARIF: But the Iranian negotiator is going to the conference. I believe those reports were premature that he was not going. It has been announced that he is going to the Munich conference.
MR. SIEGEL: Does Iran still feel obliged and does it feel that it can answer all the questions raised by the IAEA about its nuclear programs?
AMB. ZARIF: Well, Iran was interested in answering all the questions, and that is why Iran allowed the AIEA to have over 2,000 days of inspection in Iran. But unfortunately the United States decided to take the confrontation route, and usually confrontation and cooperation cannot go hand in hand.
The problem is that the IAEA has been forced by the Security Council to cut down on cooperation in the area of peaceful nuclear technology with Iran in areas that the United States itself did not – at least did not proclaim to be opposing, but that shows the extent of sincerity of the United States in saying that it doesn't oppose Iranian civil nuclear program.
MR. SIEGEL: Did you see today's actions – even though it's by the IAEA – you see that simply as really American action against Iran?
AMB. ZARIF: No, no, these actions by the IAEA were ordered by the Security Council, and we all know who was behind the decisions of the Security Council, and I don't want to go into the details of how the United States, from the very beginning, wanted to engage the Security Council; not in order to resolve the problem, but in order to create a crisis.
MR. SIEGEL: Ambassador Zarif, would you concede that your own government, say, by hosting a conference of Holocaust revisionists, including the sometime Ku Klux Klanman, David Duke, that Iran has contributed a great deal to the Western perception of it as extremist, as comfortable with a pretty loony idea – Holocaust denial – and therefore that people are not prone to believe some protestations of innocence by Iran?
AMB. ZARIF: Well, first of all, these policies started long before the current president came to office, and to try to explain problems ex post facto by bringing argumentations about what is happening today in Iran would be rather interesting, if not insincere.
But let's look at the facts: Iran has been threatened by many, including by Israel and the United States that they will use force against Iran. Iran has said – and the current president has said publicly that you will never use force against any other country. I believe the United States and others should take the same line and make that simple pronouncement: that they will not resort to force against Iran. And that would reduce a lot of tension and hostility that exists today.
Secondly, Iran does not deny Holocaust, the president does not Holocaust. We believe that that was a genocide. It must be condemned and it must not happen again. It should not happen again to Jewish people nor should it happen again to any other group that have been subjected to systematic violations of their human rights. And that is the issue that Iran has been pursuing.
Unfortunately, some people have tried to create public sentiments about a simple question that Palestinians had nothing to do with Holocaust. I think that fact stands that Palestinians –
MR. SIEGEL: Right. Well –
AMB. ZARIF: — who are being victimized.
MR. SIEGEL: While we're not going to pursue this at much greater length, the – do you regard the involvement of David Duke as perhaps a mistake by Iran in that –
AMB. ZARIF: I believe he applied from an embassy that had no knowledge of his background in the U.S. because he doesn't reside in the United States any more.
MR. SIEGEL: Well, Ambassador Zarif, thank you very much.
AMB. ZARIF: Thank you.
MR. SIEGEL: That's Ambassador Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the U.N.
(END OF INTERVIEW)