Ambassador M. Javad Zarif Interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show

December 2, 2004

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Joining me now is Javad Zarif. He`s Iran`s ambassador to the United Nations. Previously he served as Iran`s deputy foreign minister. I am pleased to have him at this table once again. Welcome.

JAVAD ZARIF: Good to be back.

CHARLIE ROSE: You`ve returned from where?

JAVAD ZARIF: I just returned from Sharm el-Sheik and Vienna.

CHARLIE ROSE: And Vienna, and the negotiations that were going on.


CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me what you think this represents.

JAVAD ZARIF: Which one, the Vienna negotiations?

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, the Vienna.

JAVAD ZARIF: I think we passed the first major hurdle in a long process, and a very difficult process. The first major hurdle was an attempt, a test for Iran, to suspend, as a confidence building measure, all enrichment activities, and we did that. The first major test for the Europeans was to be able to adopt the resolution at the board which was acceptable to Iran. Now, we can say that they got a passing grade. They didn`t satisfy us, but they were able to put that as a behind themselves.

Now we have to start the long-term process of negotiating mutual assurances, or as the agreement in Paris calls objective guarantees. Objective guarantees that Iran will not use its nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons or develop capability to produce nuclear weapons, as it has been our policy, but we need to allay the concerns of our European friends as well as the rest of the international community, which are legitimate concerns, that our capability will not be used for a weapons capability. And on the other side, we need to be receiving guarantees that the restrictions that have existed on Iran`s access to technology is no longer going to be enforced, that Iran will have access to technology like any other member of the international community, and...

CHARLIE ROSE: And build facility for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

JAVAD ZARIF: And in other areas, ranging from civil aviation to also some other means of access to technology.

You see, there has been this vicious cycle that Iran has been deprived access to technology. We have had over the past 25 years a requirement, because Iranians are very proud people, we do not want to be dependent for our daily needs on the outside world, so we have had to look for technology, to acquire technology wherever we could. That meant more often than not going to the black market in order to get the technology that we required.

That in itself fed into this skepticism that Iran had some ulterior motives for looking for technology, and this vicious cycle has been sort of building and continuing for the past 25 years. And we need to break it at a certain stage. I think we are in a good situation right now to break this vicious cycle and to allow ourselves to start building confidence. There is a very serious confidence emphasis on both sides. Iranians don`t have any confidence in Europe, certainly no confidence in the United States. And we see that there is no confidence in our program here in the West.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is there a -- is there a mechanism that you can find so that the concerns of Americans to verify?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, it is for the United States to try to play a positive and active role. The United States has decided to either play a negative role or to stay on the sidelines.

CHARLIE ROSE: The United States would have preferred, in your judgment, to have taken this to the Security Council, even though they may have faced a veto, and gotten sanctions, which they thought were a more effective...

JAVAD ZARIF: The United States has had sanctions on Iran for the past number of years.

CHARLIE ROSE: But they want the rest of the world to have sanctions.

JAVAD ZARIF: But on this particular issue, basically the rest of the world -- the world has had sanctions on Iran. The United States has been rather effective in preventing Iranian access to nuclear technology, and that is why we`ve had to go to the black market to acquire technology.

Depriving people of what they need and what they demand and what they rightfully deserve is not the way of addressing problems. Addressing problems would require looking at where the problem comes from and then trying to address it. If you were concerned that people may use the technology for weapons purposes. There are sets of standards that are available in the international community, they`re called the additional protocol, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) agreement. You can apply them. Iran is prepared to have them applied to Iran so that there won`t be any concern, there won`t be any ambiguity, there won`t be any vulnerability felt by the outside world that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Because, mind you, the perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is in and of itself a threat to us. We do not want the rest of the world to perceive Iran as pursuing a nuclear weapon capability.

CHARLIE ROSE: So, OK, but let me understand why you don`t want the rest of the world to perceive that, because there are many who say Iran wants nuclear weapons because it lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. It lives in a neighborhood where there is Pakistan, and there is India, there is Israel, and there are other people that have nuclear weapons, or have programs or would like to have nuclear weapons, and Iran is a very strong and proud country and it would like to have them too.

What`s wrong with the perception that that is in fact...

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, let me explain to you, nuclear weapons -- I mean, possession of nuclear weapons...

CHARLIE ROSE: It`s self-esteem, some countries are saying.

JAVAD ZARIF: ... requires calculations. You need to -- every country tries to augment its power, and that is a given. But in order to augment your power, you need to reduce your vulnerabilities and increase your influence. From our strategic perspective, acquiring nuclear weapons, seeking nuclear weapons or being perceived to seek nuclear weapons will reduce our influence in our region, because we are already the largest country in the region, we have had to go out of our way in order to create confidence in our neighbors that we do not have any ambitions against them. Trying to acquire nuclear weapons will enhance or exacerbate those concerns in the neighborhood, and therefore it will reduce our influence and will sort of destroy whatever we have done in the past several years in order to build confidence.

In terms of vulnerabilities, even the perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons will create immense international pressure. At the same time, if you are talking about nuclear deterrence, Iran is not in a position to acquire a nuclear deterrent, because in strategic nuclear calculations Iran does not have the -- cannot compete in that area without perceived enemies. Therefore, we believe that it does not serve our strategic interests to seek nuclear weapons or to be perceived as seeking nuclear weapons.

Now, nuclear weapons is one thing. Nuclear technology is another thing. We believe it is our right to acquire nuclear technology. This is a branch of technology that has widespread applications across the board, in areas ranging from agriculture to medicine. And believe me, we are being deprived of nuclear applications in areas from agriculture to medicine.

CHARLIE ROSE: But as you have heard many times, whenever this comes up, people say why does Iran need nuclear technology when it`s got all that oil?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, it`s a very simple calculation. First of all, I`ll tell them that if Iran did not need nuclear technology with all its oil, but 25 years ago when Iran had the same amount of oil and about half the population, the State Department went on the record welcoming Iran`s diversification and expressing the hope in a memo in 1978 that this acquiring of nuclear technology may create some jobs for American companies and a good market for American nuclear providers.

So that argument has in itself a policy that today the State Department, after the population has increased by two-fold and the oil resources have not increased, is making that argument.

But that polemic aside, Iran will be a net importer of energy within two decades. Our energy sources will be depleted in five decades. Now, this is the way of the future. We need to have the technology. We cannot be dependent on our source of energy for the next generation. We will not be forgiven by our children and our grandchildren if we allow them to be totally dependent, to go begging to the outside world for energy, for their daily consumption. And that is why we need to diversify.

Our program is not that ambitious. We want to have a very small percentage of our total energy consumption driven from nuclear energy. We`re doing the same with hydroelectric energy. We`re doing the same with other types of energy, and we need to have nuclear energy as a part of our our diversification of energy resources.

CHARLIE ROSE: You just heard Robin Wright, who just got back, a reporter you know and respect, say that it`s the No. 1 concern of the Bush administration, the acquisition of nuclear technology and possibility of nuclear weapons. The Israelis, it is clearly the thing they fear the most. Why is there so little in the way of confidence building? For example, in the question of Afghanistan and the Taliban, you and the United States worked very well together. Was there a failure there for both sides to recognize the opportunity and want to build on it? Only one side or the other torpedoed that opportunity.

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, it is my impression that the United States failed to recognize the contribution that Iran had made in the developments in Afghanistan, failed to recognize the contribution that Iran is currently making to stability in Iraq, and in fact torpedoed the possibilities through the famous or infamous axis of evil speech by the president of the United States.

CHARLIE ROSE: So when you heard that speech, all bets were off?

JAVAD ZARIF: We thought that the United States was not a partner that could be trusted. We thought that it showed a great deal of lack of appreciation for what has been done, a great deal of attempts to satisfy domestic constituencies at the expense of reality and world politics.

CHARLIE ROSE: Your government would like to see the election in Iraq take place on January 30th.

JAVAD ZARIF: We certainly do. And we believe that postponing that election would be a tremendous danger that would disrupt the entire Iraqi society. It is important to have the elections, implemented and carried out on schedule, and it is important at the same time to provide security for those elections to take place. But it would be...

CHARLIE ROSE: If Iran was asked to help provide security, unlikely, would you participate?

JAVAD ZARIF: We have already offered to do everything we can. As you know, yesterday the ministers -- the ministers of interiors of all of Iraq`s neighbors had a meeting in Iran, with the participation of Iraq`s vice president and the interior minister, where we agreed on a framework for providing assistance, security assistance, from border control to training of police officers in Iraq, in order to help secure Iraq, including for the elections. That may be too close, but we will do whatever we can in order to help the Iraqi government carry out the elections on schedule, because we believe that is absolutely essential.

CHARLIE ROSE: Now, I`ve got a lot of things here going on. One thing is that the secretary of state, secretary of state of the United States, America`s top diplomat, and the foreign minister of Iran, Kharazi, Iran`s top diplomat, sat next to each other at lunch. Correct?

JAVAD ZARIF: At dinner.

CHARLIE ROSE: At dinner. And I heard it was only small talk, they had no serious discussions.

JAVAD ZARIF: I don`t think any serious discussion will take place at a dinner table with 20 other foreign ministers present.

CHARLIE ROSE: That wasn`t the reason, though, was it?

JAVAD ZARIF: Nothing was scheduled, and I do not think that either side was prepared for that.

I think what is important is to see seriousness on the part of the United States, that it wants to adopt a realistic policy vis-a-vis our region and vis-a-vis Iran and not be motivated simply by short-sighted political agendas.

CHARLIE ROSE: So here you have a George Bush, President Khatami, Ayatollah Sistani, they`re all in favor of elections taking place on January 30th. Do you think that is going to happen?

JAVAD ZARIF: We believe it should happen. We believe it will happen, provided the good will of all parties involved. We will certainly do whatever we can in order to assist in having those elections on time, because we believe that failing to have the elections on schedule will have tremendous destabilizing impact on entire Iraq, and will provide the necessary momentum for various violent groups to retool (ph) elections by violence. You should not allow insurgents, terrorists to prevent the holding of elections, which they might not want for various reasons, through violence. And that is why it is absolutely essential to have the elections taking place on time, as scheduled, on the 30th of January, and we will do whatever we can to assist.

CHARLIE ROSE: I would assume it is your position, your government`s position, to see the insurgency wiped out.

JAVAD ZARIF: We want to see an end to this. We want to see an end to violence in Iraq. Now, we have been a victim of insurgency in Iraq. As you know, one of our diplomats was murdered, one was kidnapped, and recently released, but by these groups -- and we have suffered a great deal from these various extremist terrorist groups operating inside Iraq.

Nevertheless, we believe the way to deal with them is to deprive them of any popular support. You cannot -- two things will provide them with greater popular support. One is an attempt to destroy them, not taking into account what you call the collateral damage. Destroying hospitals, schools, mosques, as happened in Fallujah.

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you know how many weapons they found in mosques?

JAVAD ZARIF: But a lot of -- a lot of innocent children and women were also killed in that process. Maybe one day you want to take a toll, how many terrorists were killed, how many children were killed in Fallujah, how many women were killed, and see whether the number of terrorists who were killed are worth the price in civilian casualties and in the sympathy you bought for the extremists in Iraq. That is one way of supporting extremism in Iraq, through giving them -- providing them with popular sympathy. You do not want to do that neither in Iraq nor anywhere else, and that is the worst possible way of dealing with terrorism and extremism.

You want to deal with extremists by eliminating their support among the masses. You do not want to fight extremists by giving them more ground.

CHARLIE ROSE: And you eliminate their support among the masses by doing nothing, or by building up electrical...

JAVAD ZARIF: By moving -- by moving towards...

CHARLIE ROSE: ... electric, hospital, sewage, public works.

JAVAD ZARIF: That is one way of doing it. Moving towards an election. We thought that if the election had taken place earlier, as Ayatollah Sistani suggested, you would have had less ground for these terrorists to get recruits. I believe if the election takes place on the 30th, people will be energized.

You saw in Afghanistan. People thought that elections in Afghanistan would never succeed, because some people may not see it in their interest, but once they saw a determination by the international community to hold the elections on time in Afghanistan -- obviously after several delays -- then everybody went and participated, even in areas that you thought that people would not participate.

I believe the same will happen in Iraq. It should be carried out, on schedule, without any delay.

CHARLIE ROSE: Two issues, and this has been up many times. One, the borders seem to be very porous between Iran and Iraq.

JAVAD ZARIF: Both ways.

CHARLIE ROSE: Meaning terrorists are going into Iraq, from Iraq into Iran?

JAVAD ZARIF: Yes, one of the issues that we raised in this meeting of the ministers of interior, and one of the items in the final communique was that Iraq should do more in order to put an end to the presence of terrorists inside its territory and their infiltration into the territories of neighboring states.

So it is a problem. It has always been a problem. It`s a long border. We are doing our best in order to control that border. But we do not claim that we can 100 percent control it. We have terrorists coming into Iran from our eastern borders, with Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have captured a lot of them. Some of them may escape our security.

CHARLIE ROSE: These are mujahiddin, who are they?

JAVAD ZARIF: The ones who are entering our territory are MEK people.

CHARLIE ROSE: Right, the people I mentioned too. Now, they`re now saying that you have these missiles that can reach Berlin. Do you?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, they`ve been saying a lot of things.

CHARLIE ROSE: I know, but sometimes they`re right, sometimes they`re wrong.

JAVAD ZARIF: And each time -- mostly they`re wrong. Each time that there is some development, some positive development, a lot of people get active in creating propaganda.

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you have missiles that can reach Berlin?

JAVAD ZARIF: We do not...

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you want to have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv?

JAVAD ZARIF: We do not have missiles that can reach Berlin.


JAVAD ZARIF: We have missiles -- we are in the process of developing missiles as a means of self-defense, that can have a certain range. I believe the last I heard was something in the neighborhood of 1,200 miles. That was the longest range missile that was tested in Iran. That is one of the means...

CHARLIE ROSE: And what`s the distance from Tehran to Tel Aviv?

JAVAD ZARIF: I haven`t calculated it.

CHARLIE ROSE: What do you think?

JAVAD ZARIF: But let me -- let me point out one thing. We have made it very clear that Iran will not use missiles first. Iran has stated, for the record, that it will not resort to the missiles as a means for offense. They are a defensive capability.

Again, you have to look at this -- you have to look at the entire issue of missiles, within perspective. Secretary Powell has said that Iran, that the only reason that there are these long-range missiles is that they should carry weapons of mass destruction. This may be the case in normal calculations for countries that have access to other types of technology. For Iran, which has had restrictions on acquiring airplanes, fighter craft, other means of defense, missiles have become one of the most important means of defense for Iran. Therefore, we believe -- there is no international regulations against development of missiles. We have made it very clear that Iran will not use missiles first. It will only use them as a defensive capability.

People should avoid taking aggressive measures against any country. I can tell you without hesitation that Iran will take defensive measures against an armed attack. But Iran is not going to -- Iran has not in the past 250 years, waged a war of aggression. It does not intend to wage another -- a war now. It has defended itself each time that a war of aggression has been waged against it, including when Iraq waged a war of aggression against us, and we are prepared for defending ourselves. But we are prepared also to say that we will not take any offensive action against anybody.

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you expect -- your defense minister has said that if we`re attacked, we will take -- what you just repeated, we will take aggressive measures if you are attacked.

JAVAD ZARIF: No, if we are attacked, we will take defensive measures. Those who attack us have taken aggressive measures, and I believe nobody will.

CHARLIE ROSE: You don`t believe it will happen?

JAVAD ZARIF: I don`t believe anybody will attack us.

CHARLIE ROSE: Partly because you don`t think it successful, you can`t destroy whatever nuclear capability, because they`re at former military sites and they`re all over the place, and it is no longer as easy to do it as it was to knock off one nuclear reactor in Iraq many years ago.

JAVAD ZARIF: I do not think that attacking Iran, whether they want to attack our peaceful nuclear installations or other facilities in Iran, is going to be as easy a proposition.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is there an issue about inspections here? Are you prepared to open your doors and let everybody from the IAEA come in and see what you`ve got?


JAVAD ZARIF: We have been through more inspections in the past 18 months than any other country on the face of the Earth.

CHARLIE ROSE: So your attitude is come on in and look all you want to.

JAVAD ZARIF: Oh, of course. They have come on in. You see, last year, when we started this process, there were all these accusations that Iran has hidden programs here and there. Today, the accusations against us are that this program was declared to the IAEA three months after it started, rather than three months before it started.

The issue has been narrowed down to technical irregularities, rather than this huge smoking gun that was supposed to be uncovered once the IAEA came to Iran. We have had almost 1,000 man days of inspections, that is 1,000 people per day, looking at various sites in Iran, not finding anything. They have repeated this finding -- there is no undeclared nuclear activity going on in Iran. And they come -- we are prepared to allow them to come even further to Iran, to investigate further, and I believe the more they come, the more open and unequivocal declaration they can make, that there is nothing undeclared, nothing in the weapons area that is going on in Iran, and it will only serve to establish our position and to undermine the rather politically motivated position that this administration and the previous administrations have adopted here in the U.S.

CHARLIE ROSE: All right. We`ll leave it there. Let`s talk about the political situation in Iran at another time. Or maybe on a visit to Tehran.

JAVAD ZARIF: We`ll try.

CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you.

JAVAD ZARIF: Good to be with you.