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Monday, December 20, 2004

Netiran>>An interview with Hadi Semati

Netiran>Articles>Politics>International Organizations>An interview with Hadi Semati: "An interview with Hadi Semati

Yas-e-no, Daily Newspaper, Vol. 1, No. 89, Jun. 23rd, 2003, Page 7-9
By : Iman Ebrahimbai-Salami
Word Count : 3147

In an interview, university professor Dr Hadi Semati discusses opportunities for and threats against Iran under new regional circumstances and Iran-US negotiations in the face of bipartisanship in the country.
Dr Hadi Semati

Q: Let me go straight into an important question. The United States has toughened its position against Iran. Do you think Iran can make any goodwill gesture?
A: Prior to the 0recent developments, the Americans claimed that they were ready to hold bilateral talks with official representatives from the Islamic Republic to unveil their preoccupations. But the recent upheavals have made it difficult for normalization of ties.
Today, US hawks are seeking to find an answer to this question: "What is the best option for dealing with Iran?" that is why I don't think many Americans would advocate talks with Iran. Anyhow, I am of the view that if they find out a serious willingness for resumption of ties from the Iranian side, they would come ahead even under present circumstances in the region. The conditions are not good for negotiations and they wield leverages for pressure on Iran.
Q: What do you think about possible compromise between the Iranian conservatives and the United States? How likely is such compromise and what concessions might be exchanged if such compromise is in the offing?
A: The issue of ties with the United States is very important and any relevant decision should be taken at the national level. It should be based on a "consensus". The evidence does not show any connection between the talks held (with the US) on Iraq and bipartisanship in Iran.
To me, such an imagination that a specific faction would reach compromise with the US would get nowhere. As far as I know the US government and its political developments, the United States is unlikely to be eager for talks in the presence of political split in our country.
The Americans have always maintained that their presidents have "suffered blows" from Iranian domestic politics. The United States is now holding the highest level of political and military power and is unlikely to reach any "behind-the-scene" compromise with any specific factions in Iran. Otherwise, George W. Bush would meet the same fate as his predecessors. Jimmy Carter lost the presidency when Iran and the United States were wrestling over the US diplomats taken hostage in Tehran. Ronald Reagan paid a heavy price over "Iran-Contra" issue. Bill Clinton tried in vain to compromise with Iranians but the Iranian government showed negative reaction. In all the cases, the United States has suffered blows from political challenges inside Iran. Hence, taking into account the experiences, non-transparencies, misunderstandings and misinterpretations, a compromise seems unlikely.
The thorny issue of the Geneva talks is related to Iraq merely and the Americans do not believe in compromising with a specific faction in Iran. They want to reach agreement over Iraq and it may help resolve Iran-US ties in the long-term. Anyhow, I think that the Geneva talks are not anything new and they are focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q: You must mean that Iran has lost any opportunity for reopening ties with the United States?
A: In the diplomatic battlefield, the opportunity for talks is never lost but we have lost the opportunities for winning more concessions. Anyhow, taking into account the regional developments and our interests in the region, we should opt for the appropriate way. We should find the best route -- talks or confrontation -- to serve our interests and establish lasting security in the region.
We may conclude that talks would not benefit us but we should not seek tension. So, it would be more important for us to define such itinerary and mechanism. We should find out what would benefit our interests and what tools and means are available to us to reach this goal. Taking into account the specific conditions for Americans and the public antagonism in the Islamic world against the United States, the Americans seem to be opting for talks and interaction rather than dispute. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic can win diplomatic gains if it pursues a reasonable and well thought out policy. The United States is an indisputable superpower but it has its own internal problems. Unfortunately, our internal behavior is undermining the position of the Americans who seek compromise and interaction with us. On the contrary, the belligerent minority is becoming more powerful. These results from our lack of knowledge about the United Sates and chaotic strategies we adopt to establish security.
Q: Some Republicans in the US Congress and Senate are seriously seeking to halt any interaction with Iran, even Geneva talks. How serious is this issue?
A: It is completely serious, specifically on the part of the Pentagon that advocates a violent tendency in the United States. The US Department of Defense says Iran should be dealt with more seriously. Some time ago, the Pentagon announced suspension of talks as a means to show its sensitivity toward Iran. Of course, the US Secretary of State Colin Powell said later on that his country had not halted talks with Iran and it was using other channels. So, I think that it was an ultimatum. The Americans use threat of force to win concessions from their adversaries like Iran. The Pentagon is following up such extremist policy. Everything is getting worse and no sign of abatement is in sight.
Q: So, how can we control the tense situation?
A: We should firstly improve the affairs at home and create unity and solidarity among ourselves. Any national solidarity in Iran would contribute to enforcement of our policies.
Secondly, we should seek detente, announced by President Mohammad Khatami, with the United States, too. We should make the United States understand that we do not seek tension and we only want to serve our national interests. We should enforce such policy in the entire region and such interaction would compel the United States to accept the factual realities. We should not allow the forces who seek overthrow of the Islamic establishment to be reinforced in the United States. We should halt any action that may help such forces gain power. We are in critical conditions and we may not adopt strategic decisions hurriedly but we should at least not let the situation get worse.
On the other hand, we should be prudent about our behaviors and positions. We should be united and spell out discreet remarks. Any indiscreet position may prove gaping hope between us. As long as our behaviors and positions are split, we would never see any fissure between the United States factions and the European Union.
Q: How have the grounds changed for compromise with the United States under Bush presidency compared with Clinton's tenure?
A: The two periods differ basically. Under the Clinton reign, no September 11 attack took place. The terrorist attack was very important and it changed the doctrines the Americans used for their foreign relations. The September 11 event drastically changed the US foreign and defense policies. It was the first time the Americans were threatened at home and it amounted to a great shock for them. The incident won new enemies for the Americans.
Secondly, Clinton had personal impetus for normalization of ties with Iran as Arab-Israeli peace process did accomplish nothing. He was very eager to mend ties with the Islamic Republic.
Thirdly, Washington was not dominated by democratic liberal tendency and the US State Department held a decisive say in the decision-making processes. George Bush espouses threat and use of force but Clinton advocated reconciliation and interaction.
Under Clinton, the so-called hawks were marginal forces but now they hold the power. At that time (under Clinton), major political developments inside Iran, notably the May 23, 1997 presidential elections, had dropped a bombshell in the US circles. Relying on 20 million votes for Mr. Khatami, we were moving for reconciliation with a totally democratic prestige. We had a good opportunity for talks but we lost it. Now, we are in different conditions and the Bush administration is regrettably moving within the framework of ideological relations. Militancy has dominated diplomacy and the hawks hold the power and only a minority advocates diplomacy.
Q: You referred to the overarching influence of US hawks on the US foreign policy. To what extend do you think Islamic extremism in the Middle East has reinforced Christian extremism in the United States?
A: Extremism breeds extremism and the United States is seeking to eliminate Islamic radicalism in the Middle East. The Home Security Strategy Bush presented several months ago proved such determination.

Ideological changes in Washington are resulted from generation changes in the Republican Party. In other words, the new generation of the Republicans in the United States rely on the church and are very close to extremist Jewish and Zionist circles. Therefore, extremist ideological contacts between extremist Jews in Israel and extremist Christians in Washington have cleared the way for a new enemy -- Islamic radicalism.
You can see well that their propagandistic machines are always seeking to portray Islam as anti-Western. The Muslims who rely on violence help such propaganda. The Western media has increased its propaganda in recent weeks. I reiterate here that Islamic radicalism represents the biggest threat for Americans while the Jewish and Christian extremists try to capitalize on such threats.
Anyhow, we should come to our senses and eliminate the extremist portrayals of Islam. This is a fact we should deal with. It is up to the Muslims to purify themselves and it needs a dialogue from inside the Islamic world to present the peace-seeking portrayal of Islam. The Islamic Republic of Iran can spearhead such a move. It is not the issue of ties with the United States and it should be looked at within inter-civilizational framework.
Q: How can alleged presence of al-Qaeda members in Iran affect our national security?
A: Presence of al-Qaeda in Iran could represent the most important threat and it would be the best excuse for the US to use force. After the September 11, 2001 incident, terrorism and al-Qaeda are not only political issues but they are important for the reputation of the United States. Defeating al-Qaeda and Wahabi radicalism are very important for Bush and they constitute the most important threat for Washington.
The situation has got worse after Riyadh blasts. It is interesting that such incidents take place whenever a door is opened for Iran to play a major role in the region. If the organized entry of al-Qaead to our country is corroborated, the arteries of our national security would be filled with deadly poison and Iran would lose any possibility to promote its regional status. So I believe that Bush is seeking to use forces against us under the pretext of al-Qaeda. Iran is unlikely to have welcomed al-Qaeda and any organized entry of its members to the country would give a pretext for military action against Iran.
I am sure that the Americans intend to repeat their route to Iraq. Such a route starts from disarmament and ends in American democracy. They intend to remove barriers for democracy. Of course, everyone knows well that the Americans do not have a good background of supporting democracy. Its ultimate is a scenario similar to Iraq. Disarmament and inspections are part of such a scenario.
Q: Do you think the United Nations Security Council would issue any resolution against "development of nuclear weapons"?
A: In the status quo, the Americans have two plans about Iran. They are undertaking serious lobbies in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to accuse Iran of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In that case, Iran would probably face serious sanctions and confrontation. Secondly, they want to persuade the UN Security Council to adopt a specific policy toward Iran and it is likely soon.
The IAEA Board of Governors may apply pressure on us and should mobilize ourselves to ward off any such pressure. Anyhow, the Americans are making use of their propagandistic, political and information tools to take the issue to the international community. They may not gain success in the short term but it can be dangerous for us and we should be careful to strip them of any pretext.
Q: The G8 members recently expressed concern over Iran's nuclear activities. Do you think we are headed toward the same destination as Iraq? I mean if the United States is seeking pretexts for military action against Iran.
A: 1st I maintain that the American hawks follow the same scenario. If you follow up the statements and speeches run by US hawks you would find out that they are applying pressure on us and repeating such accusations of supporting terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction. Of course, Iran is different from Iraq and even the US hawks admit such differences. We should not look into such issues fearfully, but we should be concerned that the European Union and other segments of the international community may be attuned with the US over weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and the Middle East Peace Process against Iran. It would be perilous for us.
Q: What should we do to stave of such threat?
A: We cannot define our strategy by making short steps. We should look into this issue from a more pervasive point of view. We cannot resolve our problems with the Americans when we adopt double-standard policies. Even if it is not necessary for us to resume ties with the United States we should at least elucidate our goal by ameliorating our ties and base our policies on serving mutual interests. All governments insist on their legitimate interests. Everyone knows for sure that the time is not ripe for Iran to mull over restoring ties with the United States. But are we sure of the future? It is unsettling for me.
We should note that the United States is a superpower and we only represent a regional power. We dispute over everything and we are not in agreement on any single issue. We should take bigger strides and adjust our behavior with the conventional methodology and discourse in the world. Even if we have ties we would have problems and therefore we should have a wider look at the issues. Many countries do not hold ties but they have mutual understanding. We should know that our "hidden and clandestine" policies have dealt blows to our national interests.
Q: What would you do regarding the United States if you were the foreign minister of Iran with a carte blanche?
A: Firstly, I would think about ourselves! Under the present circumstances, even the United States is not completely free and all the governments have their own restrictions. Such restrictions may be ethnic, normal or legal. The best we can do in our foreign policy would be offering a clear definition of our facilities and objectives.We should seek to adjust our facilities and demands. The problem with our foreign policy is non-conformity of our facilities and goals.
The first thing I would do (if I were the foreign minister) would be working out mechanisms to balance our objectives and facilities. I think that we have not yet defined our objectives clearly.
Q: What do you think about the foreign policy adopted by the Khatami administration toward the United States?
A: The package of the Khatami administration has tried its best and Mr Khatami has properly managed resumption of ties with the United States. But Khatami's approach is not enough and the whole state should institutionalize its role. The world has given a positive response to Khatami's policy of dtente and they are confident of him. We should find out the reason behind the mounting pressure on us while we have such assets. Khatami's dtente policy has opened many doors but we have failed to gain much in some way. So we should seek the reasons in our domestic policy because the foreign policy is prolongation of domestic policy.
Q: The United States has appointed a military governor in Iraq. How should Iran react?
A: We should wait until an interim authority takes shape in Iraq. I believe that we are paying the price for our "non-conventional" impressions. The Americans imagine that we are challenging their efforts for a stable Iraq and we think that the United States has imperiled our interests in our western borders. Neither is correct.
We do not want and we cannot install our desired government in Iraq. Today, Iranian and American interests are intertwined in certain fields and we should not allow misinterpretations to accuse us of interfering in Iraqi affairs. Even if we conclude that the United States is playing with our interests in Iraq we should behave knowledgeably, transparently and flatly. The Americans will understand our simple and clear language, and our firm determination.
We announced that we advocated an independent government in Iraq and establishment of democracy in Iraq would further serve our interests and the Shiites would enjoy a better status in future Iraq. At the moment, we should clarify our position without any fear.
Another point is that we share over one thousand kilometers of frontiers with Iraq. Why should we not defend our legitimate interests? Iraq can be a good test if we want to establish a security regime in the region with Iran as the leader. To this effect, we should talk with the Americans very clearly. Success in Iraq is very important for the US president and the Americans have to pay heavy prices to promote their status there. Bush would spare no efforts to gain success in Iraq and he would not shy from getting engaged in any dispute. It should serve as an alarm bell for us.
Q: Do you think the United States would resort to military action against Iran to maintain its position in Iraq?

A: Of course I rule out the possibility of a widespread military action. Even in the absence of Iraq and Afghanistan, they were unlikely to reach such a point. Anyhow, the United States may adopt one of the three approaches toward us: 1. Limited military action against our nuclear facilities; 2. Applying heavy political pressures to destabilize Iran; 3. supporting the foreign-based opposition groups, setting up satellite networks and pitting the public opinion against us. I think that they prefer regime change in Iran rather than military action. Anyhow, it is important for us to strip them of making any unreasonable decision. The situation is very sensitive and the American hawks should not be allowed to decide for their country. Such a dispute is now in full swing in Washington."


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