In an in-depth interview Rafsanjani talks politics, past and present (PART ONE)

Arman-Hashemi
Arman-Hashemi

Chairman of the Expediency Council Hashemi Rafsanjani compares the problems and performance of his government and President Rouhani’s.

Chairman of the Expediency Council Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has said although President Rouhani’s administration is in conditions tougher than those of his own government that took office after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the performance of the Rouhani administration is satisfactory.

The following is the translation of an exclusive interview Arman-e Emrooz daily’s Hossein Abdollahi conducted with the top councilor. The interview was published by the newspaper on March 15. IFP will release the translation of the interview in three parts.

 

How did the foreign policy of the Construction government [you led] differ from that of the Moderation government of Dr. Rouhani?

These two governments share one objective: prevent foreign issues from creating problems for the country and try to untie the knots, if any. I think Mr. Rouhani’s willingness in this regard is no less than mine. There are issues which are different, for instance, tough sanctions which have been imposed on the country.

When I was president, sanctions were haphazard, and we would not let issues be taken to international bodies. Several countries had acted on their own and boycotted Iran with no international resolutions. The Security Council, Congress and the like were not at play. Certain governments did not want to see Iran make progress, thus they would make political decisions which lacked international support. Our job back then was much easier than Mr. Rouhani’s.

As president, I would announce the basic principles saying that Iran is after interaction, not creating enemies, and it was enough. Thanks to my experience as parliament speaker and as the one in charge of handling the war, the world believed my stance, especially regional countries which realized that the Islamic establishment did not want to have issues with other nations and sought to solve problems.

When Iran accepted Resolution 598 [which brought the Iran-Iraq war to an end], the world learned that Iran is neither seeking war nor expecting much in return, and that we were simply seeking our legal rights. The country was determined not to quarrel with the world.

[…]

Back then we had no problem beyond our borders. We had issues with some regional countries because of war. They had supported Saddam’s Iraq through their forces, money, and other things. They were worried due to their past behavior. Building on our own special policy, we managed to convince those countries that we could work together as friends and neighbors.

What does stand in Mr. Rouhani’s way if his government wants to adopt a similar policy?

Mr. Rouhani cannot easily adopt such a policy. Back then there was no other issue than the past behavior of these countries. Mr. Rouhani is now facing the question of Syria of which many Arab nations can make an issue. They ask what Iran is doing in Lebanon. They are concerned about Iraq. Yemen and Bahrain have heightened their concerns.

These are the areas in foreign policy we need to act cautiously. Iran has no designs on other countries. If it helps a country it is only out of humanitarian concerns. Mr. Rouhani has to tackle these questions as well as sanctions. The same issues are raised when it comes to friendship with the Arabs. The problems Mr. Rouhani is facing for solving foreign issues outnumber those of the Construction government.

In all, are you satisfied with Mr. Rouhani’s foreign policy?

I think his decisions are sensible. One of the issues which had to be fundamentally solved was the question of sanctions. The nuclear case should be settled as well so that Iran can go after tapping into the country’s technical capability to exploit nuclear science.

The nuclear issue which is very important for Iran has become a bone of contention. I think Mr. Rouhani has taken the right path, picking a good foreign minister and a good plan.

Before we reach the point we are now, the Supreme Leader voiced his approval of talks with the US – once a red line. Talks with the US had already started in two meetings in Oman before the Rouhani administration took office. Mr. Salehi was then the foreign minister. The government was at ease, learning about the leader’s go-ahead. Discussing the [nuclear] issue was impossible with the US out of the talks.

The door opened and the government started to act. If the talks are moving ahead slowly it is not the government’s fault; the other party is to blame. I have repeatedly said that the dispute can be solved in one single day if good intentions are in place and the question is not politicized.

How come they are killing time?

They say they are concerned that Iran may use its nuclear capability for military purposes! That is not what we want to do. The Leader has released an edict banning [atomic] bombs. If they are killing time for this, it is no problem. We have repeatedly said, ‘Step forward and prove your claims’.

They are gradually getting the point. We accepted the Additional Protocol in the talks and the world is sure about it. They have to make an important decision and stop looking for excuses. […] They can be assured that Iran’s scientific power could be used for peaceful purposes.

They act based on their own criteria thinking that they can achieve better results through escalation of pressures; that’s why they resort to marginal issues and bring up the question of missiles which has nothing to do with the nuclear case.

Sanctions have been slapped [on Iran] because of the nuclear program. When marginal issues come to the fore, political motivations of the other side are revealed. As far as Iran is concerned, we have acted flawlessly.

The problems the government is grappling with at home are not few.      

Yes, I didn’t have the problems Mr. Rouhani is now facing inside the country. You see that they level unfounded charges and raise concerns after any trip the negotiating team makes. It is true that marginal issues should not be taken into account for the sake of the country’s interests, but at least they can avoid measures which sap the morale of the negotiating team if they cannot encourage, support or welcome the country’s negotiators.

Unfortunately, these rowdy people – who are in the minority – view themselves as revolutionaries. These are the problems the Rouhani administration is grappling with. Mine was less than this.

Another good point then was that we saw eye to eye on almost any issue with the Leader. For instance, when I wanted to form my cabinet, we talked about every proposed member of the cabinet. […] This way, the leader was quite sure about the government. Anything the cabinet wanted to do, the leader would give his approval.

You said the role the US plays in nuclear talks is important. How constructive is the American role in securing a likely deal at the talks the 11th government has been holding? Is it constructive at all?

Their role has been a bit tough and occasionally constructive. The reason: after so many years, talks have made progress. Weren’t there talks before Mr. Rouhani’s government took office? They [officials of the previous government] were holding talks too, but the gaps were widening by the day. Anytime there was a new statement, a new row would erupt.

That is not the case anymore. Things are progressing gradually. The Americans face problems too. Their problems are bigger, though. The Worriers [supporters of Ahmadinejad] are revolutionaries, but Congress and Israel officially interfere with things.

Many members of Congress are indebted to the Jews and the Zionist lobby which defies the Obama administration.

Arab countries whose concerns are quite unfounded are bankrolling efforts to sabotage the talks. The US has a balancing act to do. I am not saying the Obama administration has no choice but satisfy them all. If there were goodwill, the US would have acted swiftly.

If the problems were truly technical, they would sit at the table for marathon talks and settle all the problems in a few days and sign a deal. It is possible. They follow polices that prolong the talks. Still, we have made progress and many problems have been settled.

Do you think there will be a deal around the corner?  

I believe the Europeans, including those who talk to me off and on, cannot wait for a deal, because they know that transaction with Iran is of great importance.

Iranian gas and oil on the international market can settle some of their problems. For the great projects we are implementing, we have to get many things from them. Even if we implement these projects ourselves, we need to import certain things from Europe.

I believe that an inactive Iran won’t serve their interests. Our ties with Americans were cut at the beginning [of the revolution]. They lost everything in Iran and they are now remorseful. They are even jealous of other parties that do business with Iran.

The Europeans are all for a deal. Sometimes the French make complaints which are quite superficial. They have other reasons for their complaints.

The US is serious. It is the main party that sits across from us at the negotiating table. When they were imposing sanctions on us, Russia and China faced the American and NATO leverage. Talks with the three European countries are not a taboo, neither for us nor for them [the Worriers]. The US is the main question now.

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