Mr. Kharazi is the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations. The following interview was conducted in New York City on September 30, 1994, by Thomas R. Mattair, Director of Research and Policy Analysis of the Middle East Policy Council.
DR. MATTAIR: U.S. officials specify five areas in which Iran's behavior is a problem: programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, conventional-arms purchases that might threaten Gulf Arab countries, the promotion of terrorism and assassination around the world, support to movements working against the governments of Egypt and Algeria and elsewhere in the Arab world, and opposition to the Arab Israeli peace process. They say the United States has no quarrel with the Islamic nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they were to see a change in Iran's behavior in these five areas we could have normal relations. Can you respond specifically to the five problem areas?
KHARAZI: They claim that they do not have any quarrel with Iran's Islamic character, but in fact I think the problem is that our system is an independent, new model of living lslamically, governing a state in an Islamic way and doing everything with Islamic values.
Q: You are no doubt aware that Edward Djerejian and Robert Pelletreau [former and current assistant secretaries of state] have made important speeches in the past year saying the United States respects the religion of Islam, has friendly relations with many regimes that have an Islamic character and does not believe that adherence to traditional Islam challenges U.S. interests.
KHARAZI: If you compare Iran with other countries that are Islamic, they are not the way we are. For example, we are accused of the violation of human rights. We don't believe in violating human rights. In some of these states, women cannot drive. Women in Iran are very active in social and political life. They occupy high ranks in the administration, in the universities and in business. We have women running their own companies. We have women who are full professors at the university. Girls occupy 46 percent of places at the universities. It is true that the government asks them to observe the Islamic dress code, but that has not prohibited them from moving toward high ranks in administration and parliament. There are nine women, more than in the U.S. Senate, who actively participate in debates and decision making.
In other aspects of human rights as well, you cannot compare the situation in Iran with that in some of these states. But nobody talks about violations of human rights in those states. That is why I believe that the real quarrel is with the nature of this government, this system.
Q: Aside from the status of women, U.S. officials charge Iran with repression of Kurds, Bahais and other minorities, and with executions and torture.
KHARAZI: These charges are either misunderstandings or baseless allegations. It is true that the Bahai faith is not a recognized religion in Iran, but this does not mean that they don't enjoy life and conduct business. There are cases of Bahai individuals being involved in illegal activities, as some Muslims and Christians have been. If these Bahais have been punished, the propaganda outside says they have been persecuted because they are Bahais. If Bahais or Muslims or Christians or Jews have been punished, it is based on their involvement in conduct against the law.
In the case of Kurds and other ethnicities, those not involved in illegal activities enjoy their life, not only in Kurdish areas but also in Tehran and other places. This is so for Turks, Baluchis, Arabs and other ethnicities. Of course, some Kurds are members of an illegal party and are involved in terrorist activities. They have escaped to Iraq and come in and attack villages. But the Kurdish population abiding by the law, has no problems. The Kurdish area is developed, and there has been a lot of investment for the prosperity of the population. They have their own books in Kurdish, their own religious ceremonies, schools and universities.
Q: How strong is the People's Mojahedin? The State Department in its human-rights report complained about Iran's record, but it also complained about the Mojahedin's operations. The Mojahedin is active in Washington, lobbying Congress, the media and the think tanks, arguing that they are the democratic alternative and trying hard to get the State Department to talk with them before issuing its report. Even The New York Times has called for this.
KHARAZI: They receive support from some circles in the United States. The important thing is that they do not have support inside Iran because they are terrorists. People remember when they killed more than 1,500 people on the streets at the beginning of the war with Iraq. They were using sabotage inside the society to gain power. They killed our president, our prime minister and the head of our judiciary. They have confessed all of this in their newspapers.
Q: Who was responsible for the bombing in the parliament in 1981?
KHARAZI: The People's Mojahedin. The Islamic Republic party was bombed, and 72 people were killed. The same group bombed the prime minister's office, and the president and the prime minister were killed. They don't enjoy any support inside the country because they have been supported all through the years by Saddam Hussein and still are. They are based in Iraqi territory.
Recently, under the advice of some foreign circles, they have created the so-called National Council of Resistance of Iran, but it is all show. They do not even have support in the Iranian community living in the United States. But they have a very sophisticated organization and very powerful public relations.
Q: Iran has been charged with carrying out assassinations of regime opponents abroad, for example in Europe.
KHARAZI: The government of Iran has nothing to do with these incidents. But to go back to the five problem areas you mentioned, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) envoys came to Iran twice and inspected wherever they wanted. Eventually they reported that they had found no evidence that Iran is involved in nuclear-weapons programs.
Q: There are prominent military analysts in the United States who argue that IAEA inspections are unreliable, and there are many CIA voices making accusations.
KHARAZI: They claim and accuse but without showing evidence. The IAEA, the prestigious international organization responsible for this job, has come to Iran and has reported.
Q: It is also said that Iran has biological weapons, chemical weapons and missile delivery systems.
KHARAZI: We don't have any programs for those weapons. We are victims of chemical weapons, but we are a signatory to the chemical-weapons convention and have been one of the countries promoting its adoption. We think all should sign it and abide by it. This is true for biological weapons as well. We are producing missiles, but they are short-range missiles of only a few hundred kilometers. We have no plans for long-range missiles and no technology for producing them.
Q: Some fear that Iran will purchase them from North Korea or China.
KHARAZI: There has been no such deal. In terms of conventional weapons, if you compare Iran with our neighbors you find that what we have to spend for military expenditures, including arms, is much lower than what our neighbors have spent. If we take into consideration our large size and population and the fact that Iran's military capacity was nearly destroyed in eight years of war, for defensive purposes we need to buy some arms. But the money we have to spend is very little. In the last few years, we have spent an average of 1.6 percent of our GDP on arms expenditures. Saudi Arabia has spent more than 20 percent of GDP.
Q: What are your defensive considerations? U.S. officials say these weapons could be intended to intimidate Gulf Arab states and prevent passage through the Strait of Hormuz.
KHARAZI: We are surrounded by turmoil. On the west we have Iraq, which has attacked its neighbors twice. Its military capacity was damaged during the Persian Gulf crisis, but it is still at a high level. On the east, we have Afghanistan; in the south, the Persian Gulf, we have the presence of foreign troops; in the north, we have republics with their own internal problems-Azerbaijan and Armenia are involved in fighting in Nagorno-Karabagh. On the other side, we have Tajikistan; although it does not have a border with us, it is very close.
It is very easy to make the case that we need to keep our military capacity and buy some arms for defensive purposes. If Americans claim that this military expenditure is to threaten the states in the Persian Gulf, that is a baseless accusation. I think they make this claim to sell more arms to the other states, and so far they have been successful.
Q: U.S. officials point to Iran's submarines in the Gulf, its strengthening of the navy generally, missiles at the Strait of Hormuz and long-range fighters and strike aircraft.
KHARAZI: At the time of the shah, the capacity and structure of the military included all of these weapons. The shah ordered six submarines from Germany, which were not delivered because of the revolution. We are fulfilling this capacity to the level of the shah and the level before the war with Iraq-and it is all for purposes of self-defense.
Q: Saudi Arabia and Iran resumed diplomatic relations in 1991, and Iran's foreign minister, Mr. Velayati, travels to capitals of Gulf Arab states on diplomatic missions. How do you view the future of Iran's relations with the Gulf Arab states in fields such as oil production and the acquisition of arms? What kind of security framework do you think is feasible for the region?
KHARAZI: The security of the Persian Gulf is very important to our national security. But we believe that it is the littoral states' responsibility to make arrangements for it. Iran is a major Gulf player; it has the longest coast on the Persian Gulf. Therefore, I don't think that anybody will succeed in imposing a security plan on the region. We have tried our best to convince these southern states of the Persian Gulf that eventually we have to get together and come up with a security plan. But it seems that they are under pressure from outside powers, especially the United States. I think that in the future they will understand that cooperation with Iran would be in their interest. We are showing patience and prudence, because it takes time.
We have been directing our attention toward the north because we think that we can do a lot in terms of economic cooperation with the new republics of the former Soviet Union. We are doing our best bilaterally or multilaterally in the framework of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to help them develop. We believe that unless they come up with a viable economy they will be considered a threat to our national security. I think if we succeed in developing the ECO between Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan and some of these new republics, that would by itself attract the attention of the southern states. In that case, Iran can play a very important role as a bridge between northern and southern states.
Q: There is already trade and investment between Gulf Arab states and Iran. How does Iran propose to be a bridge between Gulf Arab states and new republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus?
KHARAZI: After the ECO is functioning, the economies of all members would move toward more development. Investment by Arab states of the Persian Gulf in ECO countries would be very profitable. Iran with its railways, gas pipelines and roads can link the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus to the Gulf and to the sea. The same facilities can be used to carry goods from the Gulf to these countries. The Iranian banking system is more developed than that of the new republics and can be used as a channel for financial and economic support.
Q: Some argue that Iran's position on Abu Musa and the Tunb islands is potentially threatening to Gulf Arab states and Gulf shipping. How do you respond to this?
KHARAZI: We have documents that show these islands have been part of Iranian territory for centuries. For years, Britain occupied these islands, but in 1971 they decided to withdraw. Therefore, the shah sent troops to retake them based on an agreement among the British government, the Iranian government and the emirate of Sharjah. At that time, there was no United Arab Emirates (UAE). The shah accepted the sovereignty of Bahrain in return for the withdrawal of the British government from the islands. We have an agreement signed in 1971 spelling out how the island of Abu Musa is to be governed by Iran and Sharjab. The security of the island has been maintained by Iranians since 1971.
But we found out that people who are not from Sharjah but from other nations had come to the island. We were suspicious that they were involved in spying or other illegal activities, and therefore we had to ask them to show their identification. Officials of the UAE were not happy with these restrictions, which were imposed just for the sake of the security of the island. Some parties also are interested in provoking misunderstanding between Iran and its neighbors. Our position is that if there is misunderstanding between Iran and Sharjah and the UAE, it should be negotiated on the basis of the 1971 agreement. Foreign Minister Velayati visited the UAE, and their foreign minister was supposed to visit Iran to resume talks. But they stopped the talks and demanded as a condition for future talks that Iran accept the sovereignty of the UAE over these islands. It is clear that there could be agreement if the UAE had the will to resolve this.
Q: How would you deal with Iraq in some sort of security framework?
KHARAZI: Everyone is concerned about Iraq, but that cannot be an excuse for an arms race. Iraq is restricted by Security Council resolutions. I think what we have proposed to the states in the region is a very good proposal: Let us reduce the amount we spend on arms. Iraq as it is right now would have difficulty entering into such a regional arrangement, but eventually there is no way but to include Iraq.
Q: Have you called for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq?
KHARAZI: No. We are complying with the U.N. resolutions.
Q: There was a story out of Oman.
KHARAZI: Yes, if the Security Council decides to lift the embargo, we will support that, because we believe that the Iraqi people are suffering from this embargo.
Q: Could Iraq be included in a Gulf security framework while Saddam Hussein is the leader?
KHARAZI: I don't know. I cannot put any conditions on it, but if Iraq would prove that it is ready to be a member of the security arrangements and comply with their requirements, we could not help but include it. This would keep it from new aggressions.
Q: Could Iran accept some kind of U.S. military presence in the Gulf region?
KHARAZI: We think that the American military presence in the Persian Gulf region is not helpful. It increases tension among these nations. It is through genuine cooperation among states in the Persian Gulf, especially economic cooperation, that the security of the region can be maintained. The flow of oil is important not only to the states in the region but to everyone around the world, and that is why maintenance of security is very important to all of us.
It is a danger to Iran's national security and is not in the interest of the region to have so many forces here. How long do the Americans want to stay and protect these small countries? It costs a lot, and the small nations have to pay for it. Let's think about a formula which is less expensive and more practical. We can start with other countries excluding Iraq, and when Iraq changes, we can decide collectively to admit them. Just having arms is not going to guarantee safety. If Iranian power and capacity were part of a security arrangement, wouldn't it keep others from aggression?
Q: The reason for the Gulf states' support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War was their desire to maintain a bulwark against potential Iranian advances.
KHARAZI: If they thought we had any ambitions they were deceived. Iraq is the party that attacked Iran. We just defended ourselves.
Q: U.S. officials accuse Iran of attempting to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process through patronage of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Sometimes Iran is called the patron, sometimes more specifically the Revolutionary Guards are identified as the patron. What is the relationship between Iran and these groups?
KHARAZI: We sympathize with them, because we share their position, which does not agree with this so-called peace process. It is our principled position that any process, if it wants to be successful and supported by all Palestinians, has to fulfill all of their rights. This peace process does not answer many major questions, such as the question of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinians who have been expelled since 1948. We consider this process a surrender, and we cannot endorse it.
The case of Hezbollah is different because Hezbollah is fighting against Israeli aggression. Israel has occupied part of Lebanon, and Hezbollah is fighting to liberate their land. This is the position of Lebanon's government as well. It cannot keep this group from fighting, because they are resisting an aggressor.
Q: I wrote in late 1992 that the incoming Clinton administration should seek a comprehensive peace quickly, entailing Israeli withdrawal from virtually all of the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and the return of refugees. But I can't oppose a process that, while not as ambitious as the one I recommended, nevertheless results in Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian authority, even if it's slow and we don't know exactly where it will go.
KHARAZI: How can you guarantee that slowly and eventually it will end the occupation?
Q: We can't, but the premise is that the Israelis will have the opportunity to test the new situation.
KHARAZI: Everything in this peace process depends on the will of the Israelis, and this is its weakness. It is one-sided. That is why I call it a surrender.
Q: What would the terms of the agreement have to be for Iran to say it was a good agreement that they could accept?
KHARAZI: I think the Israeli regime is racist because they have deprived Palestinians not only of their right to vote, as was true of the apartheid regime in South Africa, but of their right to any sort of life. The Palestinian refugees do not enjoy the right of return to their homeland. The solution is to adopt a democratic mechanism on the model of South Africa.
Q: The Israelis and the PLO are negotiating about elections for a Palestinian self-governing council. Are you talking about elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or are you talking about a single democratic Palestine?
KHARAZI: I think it is the right of the Palestinians to have their government in their land. Therefore, before anything else, the right of return has to be observed, and Palestinians who have been expelled since 1948 have to be allowed to return to their homeland. Then they can decide about the sort of government that they would enjoy.
Q: Some would argue that, because the $2.3 billion dollars of foreign aid has not reached Yasser Arafat and foreign investment is just beginning, the West Bank and Gaza economy could not possibly support the immediate return off our million people prior to elections. Why not build the economy now, hold elections for the council now, and then negotiate the next stage, which may involve independence and the return of the rest of the refugees?
KHARAZI: This autonomous authority does not have the right to give the opportunity to the inhabitants of these lands to return and take part in the decision making.
Q: It would have to negotiate that.
KHARAZI: What sort of peace process is it that requires them to negotiate about their basic human rights?
Q: Would Iran be willing to accept an independent state of Israel next to an independent Palestinian state if East Jerusalem were returned to the Palestinians or there were a sharing of power there or something the Palestinians found acceptable? Would Iran accept a two-state solution?
KHARAZI: We have not supported this peace process, and naturally we cannot support its outcomes. We believe that this peace process is not going to fulfill the human rights of the Palestinians, and therefore we think that we have to look for other mechanisms to fulfill those rights.
Q: What do you think will be the impact of the kidnapping by Hamas militants of an Israeli soldier and the threat to kill him? [The Israeli soldier was later killed by his captors during an Israeli rescue attempt.]
KHARAZI: This is sensitive, and we have to wait. This sort of tension is increasing because there are people in the territories who are not satisfied and are going to continue their struggle. This is not the first or the last such incident. The question is, how far can they go in these negotiations, and does Arafat have any power over Hamas to stop their struggle?
Q: Someone is carrying the fight to Buenos Aires and London and Bangkok and other places. The official U.S. view is that the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires was a continuation of the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict in Lebanon, because Israel kidnapped a Hezbollah leader from the Bekaa Valley and bombed a Hezbollah barracks in the Bekaa killing about a hundred people. Hezbollah promised a spectacular retaliation.
Initially, a lot of attention focused on Iran. An informer, Manouchehr Moatamer, named some Iranians who had traveled to Argentina, such as Ali Akbar Parvaresh, a parliamentary member and a protégé of Ayatollah Khamenei. Other people who were reportedly members of the Revolutionary Guard and patrons of Hezbollah were named. Warrants were issued for their arrest and then dismissed. Even Argentine Jewish Leaders said that the evidence linking these four Iranians to the crime was weak. But later a U.S. intelligence analyst said that Iran is "the patron of the most deadly terrorist organization we have seen in this century-Hezbollah." So they are still pursuing that link and citing not just sympathy but money and weapons and training. Your press secretary wrote to The New York Times about this and said Moatamer was never an Iranian diplomat and that these Iranians named were going to sue for defamation and that you were going to get to the bottom of this. What is your account of this incident?
KHARAZI: Americans and Israelis jumped to conclusions without evidence. This man Moatamer was in Cuba and contacted our embassy there saying he and his family did not have any money and were passing through Cuba to Iran and needed help. The embassy gave them food and money to stay in Cuba for a night. Then they called the embassy in Caracas to help them, because they were going to stay in Caracas for one night to fix their tickets and go back home. In Caracas, two employees of our embassy went to the airport, picked up this family and paid for them to stay overnight in a hotel. The next morning when they went to help them arrange their flights, they found they had disappeared. In fact, they had gone to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and claimed that they had been mistreated. The man in charge of UNHCR then reported this case, without any investigation, to the government of Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government, which at the time was in a dispute with Iran over OPEC, used this opportunity to expel four Iranians from Venezuela without any investigation. Moatamer claimed that he had been deputy to the minister of culture and Islamic guidance. It was a lie. He was a shopkeeper in Isfahan selling home appliances, but he had decided to flee to the United States. He fabricated all of these stories. Later the UNHCR man in Venezuela issued a statement that the identity of this man is under question and that he has to be investigated. He apologized for what he had done in referring the case to the Venezuelan government. The Venezuelan government understood later that it had been a hoax and that they had been trapped. In fact, its foreign minister is going to meet me on Monday here in New York to talk about this story.
On the same day the bombing in Argentina happened and the judge in Argentina came to Caracas to interview this man. Moatamer again used the opportunity to pretend he had information about the bombing.
Q: Why did the Argentinian go to Venezuela to interview him about the bombing?
KHARAZI: Because he claimed that he knew people who were involved in it.
Q: And that he had been in a meeting with them in Tehran?
KHARAZI: Yes. So the Argentinian judge showed him pictures of people who had been in Argentina, and he just simply pointed to four pictures. This Parvaresh whom you mentioned had visited Argentina nine months before the bombing on an official visit, and the others had been there years before the bombing. One of them had been in Argentina and had left six years earlier. Moatamer claimed that one of our diplomats in Argentina, Mr. Zanganeh, had been in a meeting in Tehran on March 21, 1994, with the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, and that in that meeting they planned this bombing. But in fact Mr. Zanganeh had left Iran in December 1993 and was in Argentina on March 21, 1994. What he said was a fabrication. The government of Argentina understood later and dropped the case for lack of evidence. Unfortunately, the Americans insisted that this man was a serious informant and that they were going to use his information.
We don't know who was behind this explosion in Argentina, but Iran had nothing to do with it.
Q: There are reports that there is a relatively large Lebanese Shiite community in Buenos Aires and other areas of Argentina and that they have links to Hezbollah.
KHARAZI: These are speculations. One has to have hard evidence.
Q: Has Iran done its own investigation?
KHARAZI: We do not have access to the field to investigate. Of course, we have said to the Argentinian authorities that we are ready to cooperate with them to find out who was behind this.
Q: If Syria signs an agreement with Israel, both Israel and the United States will ask Syria to crack down on Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley (and on other radical groups based in Damascus). How would such a crackdown affect Iran's relations with Syria?
KHARAZI: Hezbollah is a political system in Lebanon resisting aggression. I don't think that Syria would oppose their resistance against aggressors as long as Israel is in Lebanon.
Q: The deal would be that Israel would have to withdraw from Lebanon.
KHARAZI: In that case, what Hezbollah has been fighting for would have been achieved. Our relations with Syria are very good. We are not going to impose our policies on other nations. We understand that Syria's immediate concern is the Golan Heights. It is part of their land, and they are doing their best to liberate it.
Q: Another charge is that Iran supports training camps in the Sudan and supports groups like the Islamic Group in Egypt and the Islamic Armed Group in Algeria. U.S. officials say the violent resistance is supported by Iran.
KHARAZI: This is another baseless charge. As some American officials have declared, these Islamic movements in Algeria and Egypt and other places are genuine homegrown movements. It is true that the Islamic revolution of Iran has inspired them, as the Iranian people during the revolution were inspired by new Islamic trends of thought in Egypt. The Islamic revolution of Iran has had a natural influence on other Islamic and even non-Muslim communities in different parts of the world. We have sympathy with them, although their positions regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran have not always been favorable. I remember that in Algeria, before their leaders were arrested, the second man of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), Ali Belhadj, was speaking aloud in the mosques against Iran. Later I found out that in prison he apologized. But this shows that they have their own thoughts and strategies. It is true that they are looking for an Islamic way of life and an Islamic state. That does not mean that they are 100 percent in agreement with our system. Some governments, without showing any evidence, point to Iran as a scapegoat, to put more pressure on their people and to look for an excuse to receive more support from outside.
Q: Are there elements in the Revolutionary Guards or leaders of bonyads [clerically-run economic foundations] supporting extremists in Algeria, Egypt or Hezbollah militants in Lebanon with money, arms or training?
KHARAZI: I can assure you that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is just taking positions and showing sympathies. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there have been many who have had contacts or been involved in different activities, but that does not mean that the Saudi Arabian government is supporting whatever their nationals do. The government of Iran is quite clear in its positions, but I don't know if there are any individuals who are involved in this business or not.
Q: The Revolutionary Guards is an arm of the government.
KHARAZI: Yes, certainly they are.
Q: But the bonyads are not.
KHARAZI: The bonyads are part of the system of Iran, but not a part of the government. They are economic organizations functioning under the authority of Ayatollah Khamenei in the spending of their financial resources. But for sure they are not involved in this.
Q: It is common in American press and academic circles to distinguish between a pragmatist like President Rafsanjani and an ideologue or hardliner such as Ayatollah Khamenei and to speculate that it is the hardliners who are behind the policies that bother the U.S. government. ls it correct to distinguish between pragmatists and ideologues?
KHARAZI: It is too simplistic to analyze Iranian politics this way. If you go to the parliament you can find a span of differences. It is true that the president, the ministers and the parliamentary deputies may have their own thoughts and insist on them because they believe in them, but in the long run they comply with the direction put forward through negotiations, debates and the leadership of the system. The leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran has his own role to play, not through direct intervention, but in terms of spiritual authority.
Decision-making is done through democratic channels and instruments. Even the leader himself is chosen through democratic channels. We have an Assembly of Experts, 76 of them, elected by the people directly. Its main responsibility is electing the leader and monitoring his health, his sanity, his readiness to lead the nation. If they found that he was not capable of leading it, they could change him with another.
Q: It is reported that President Rafsanjani' s five-year economic plan-his effort to privatize, to dismantle price controls, to eliminate subsidies-is being blocked by hardline clerics, members of parliament and bonyad leaders. This has a bearing on Iran's ability to attract new credits from Western banks or new Western investment.
KHARAZI: There were differences inside parliament in regard to the five-year plan before it was approved five years ago. There were deputies who were against it and against borrowing from outside. President Rafsanjani and those who were in favor of the plan justified their position by saying that after a war there is a reconstruction period and that it was time for others to come in and invest and help us reconstruct the country.
The government thought that if it opened the doors, foreign companies would rush in and help, but this did not happen. We got trapped in $20 billion of debt. We have planned in our second five-year plan to depend on ourselves and to pay our debts and to solve our own economic problems based on our capacities and income.
Q: Apparently the decline in oil prices and revenues is having an impact, driving up inflation and unemployment.
KHARAZI: Oil prices are low, and that puts pressure on the Iranian economy. That is exactly why we have changed our policy to reduce our dependence on oil revenues and develop non-oil exports. The level of non-oil exports was less than $1 billion before the first five-year plan in 1989, and at the end of the five-year plan it had increased to close to $5 billion. We plan to increase it to $10 billion by the end of the next five-year plan.
Q: The United States has asked Japan and Europe and others not to grant new loans or reschedule debt or invest. The stated reason is to influence Iran to change behavior the United States considers hostile. What conditions would be necessary for Iran to begin an authoritative dialogue with the United States, and what would Iran want out of it?
KHARAZI: The United States will not be able to impose its policies on others easily. Eventually, I believe the United States has to declare that it is ready to resolve its problems with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on mutual respect and mutual interests. The administration has failed to convince Japan and European countries not to resolve their financial problems with Iran. [Iran has been able to reschedule about 80 percent of its debt to Japan, Germany and France, despite U.S. opposition.] These countries are looking out for their own interests. Even American companies are looking out for their own interests. Actually, American companies are the number one partner with Iran in terms of business. Therefore, the eventual result, I suppose, will be a change in American policy toward Iran.
If the United States would show that it is ready to change its policy and to respect us-in terms of concrete steps such as releasing our assets, paying for the Airbus that the Americans shot down and for the people who were killed, and other steps that would create a new atmosphere. There are many issues that we would then be interested in negotiating. For example, we think it is the right of Iran to be part of Persian Gulf security arrangements.
Q: From your point of view, can the history of U.S.-Iranian relations be overcome?
KHARAZI: When two nations decide to establish relations, I think that they can overcome these difficulties. We had war for eight years with Iraq, but if we come to the understanding that Iraq is ready for brotherly relations, we are ready to develop them. Therefore, if the United States would show its goodwill and take measures to change its attitude, naturally these problems can be overcome.