RFE/RL: As you saw in the panel [discussion] today, Mr. Flynt Leverett, former [U.S.] National Security Council senior director on Middle East affairs, said that unless Iran is given some security guarantees and other incentives ahead of negotiations, the current U.S. approach to Iran's nuclear issue would not bear fruit. I'd like to get your point of view on this issue.
Matthew Boland: I think the real issue about why the negotiations to this point have not been bearing fruit is because three years after its secret nuclear program was discovered, Iran is still withholding information and cooperation. Iran refuses to answer questions surrounding its nuclear program; it still refuses to give access to individuals; and it refuses to turn over key documents related to its nuclear program, despite three years of intensive investigations by the [International Atomic Energy Agency]. So I think the real issue is that Iran's leaders have not taken steps to give the international community confidence that they're pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.
RFE/RL: Mr. Leverett said that both Iran and the United States are in different ways responsible for the current impasse. For instance, he referred to part of the current Iran nuclear standoff as being a result of U.S. rejection of Iran's proposals three years ago for normal relations, which enjoyed, according to him, the blessing of the supreme leader of Iran [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei].
Boland: Well, if you look at the facts of Iran's actions and U.S. actions over the last three years, I think you'll see that the U.S. has made every effort -- and we will continue to make every effort -- to seek a diplomatic solution. Three years ago, when it was discovered that Iran had been hiding their nuclear program for 18 years, and therefore violating their obligation to comply with IAEA safeguards, the U.S. view was that Iran should be reported to the UN Security Council. However, the Europeans wanted to put forth a vigorous diplomatic approach, and the United States supported that approach. It resulted in the Tehran Declaration, which asked Iran to suspend its enrichment-related activities.
Well, Iran broke that agreement by starting to convert uranium. Then the Europeans presented the Paris Agreement, which asked Iran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, including these conversion activities. And Iran agreed to that. Iran broke that agreement too. Then, in August 2005, the Europeans presented a proposal to Iran, that the United States supported, that would allow Iran to have peaceful nuclear energy without the sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies. And what did Iran do? Iran's leaders rejected that proposal before they even saw it.
Also, if you look back over the last three years, the Russians came to the table with a very interesting and good proposal for Iran to provide guaranteed access to nuclear fuel for the lifetime of Iran's reactor. The U.S. supports that proposal; we did support it, we support it now. And yet, Iran has not agreed to accept that proposal. Most recently, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, the European three [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom], and the United States have presented Iran with a generous package of incentives that would provide for economic, political, and technological benefits for the Iranian people, after the successful conclusion of negotiations with Iran. [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice herself announced that the U.S. would be willing to join negotiations with our European partners and Iran if Iran suspended its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. Now, this was the first significant U.S. offer to negotiate a major issue with Iran in 27 years. Iran's leaders did not accept that proposal. So I think if you look back over the last three years, you will see the U.S. has made a strong, vigorous effort to support a diplomatic solution. And we remain focused on seeking a diplomatic solution to this problem.
RFE/RL: Kayhan Barzegar, the Iranian participant in the panel and a university professor in Tehran, said negotiations with Iran are likely. So, he thinks that there is a possibility for a diplomatic solution on the other side. But he also adds that it would not be likely in a situation where Iran is isolated, for instance by sanctions, before negotiations. The U.S. is actually pushing for sanctions, and asking other countries to go in that direction.
Boland: If you look at what is causing Iran to be isolated, it's the actions of the Iranian regime. Countries around the world are asking some basic questions. If Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, why did they hide it for 18 years? If Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, why won't Iran's leaders cooperate with the IAEA to clear up the many uncertainties about what they've been doing and why? If Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, why does it have unexplained ties to Iran's military? And lastly, if Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, why does Iran possess a document on fabricating nuclear weapons components? So, countries around the world are concerned when they ask these questions. They're concerned with Iran, because Iran's leaders have not taken steps to give the international community confidence that they're pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.
RFE/RL: Do you at this point share a degree of pessimism that a certain number of analysts today were sharing, saying that maybe this road is not going anywhere that the United States and the Europeans would wish? Plus, the fact that the Russians and Chinese right now are not expressing willingness toward implementing sanctions on Iran?
Boland: Well, I'm optimistic; being a diplomat, you need to be optimistic. I think it's time to focus on Iran's actions, not Iran's words. The international community has called on Iran to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activities, because the international community has lost confidence in the peaceful nature of their program. And Iran's leaders have a clear choice. If they suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activities, then the U.S., Europeans, Russia, and China have a generous package of incentives that would allow Iran to have a peaceful nuclear energy program.
The U.S. respects Iran's long history and rich culture. We admire the entrepreneurial skills of the Iranian people. And we understand that the Iranian people believe it is their right, and the U.S. agrees it is the right of the Iranian people to enjoy the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy.
But there are deep concerns, not just from the U.S. but from countries all over the world, about some of the intentions of Iran's leaders. We're concerned that some of Iran's leaders would use these enrichment and reprocessing technologies to produce nuclear-weapons-grade material. Iran does not need enrichment and reprocessing technology to have a strong nuclear-energy industry. The proposal that's on the table right now would provide Iran with all they need for a state-of-the-art, civil, peaceful nuclear-energy program, while at the same time not allowing Iran to have the sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies that they would need in order to build nuclear-weapons-grade material. So we hope that Iran's leaders will think about what's best for the economic prosperity and long-term security of the Iranian people. And we hope that all countries will encourage Iran's leaders to make the right choice, which is a choice for cooperation and negotiation over confrontation.