By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 10, 2009 6:25 PM
TEHRAN, Sept. 10 -- Iran is not prepared to discuss halting its uranium enrichment program in response to Western demands but is proposing instead a worldwide control system aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top political aide said in an interview Thursday.
The Web site ProPublica obtained a copy of the set of proposals handed to the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on Wednesday, in which Iran also offered cooperation in solving problems in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism, as well as collaboration on oil and gas projects, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi said. A longtime confidant of Ahmadinejad, Samareh Hashemi is considered the president's closest aide and is reportedly under consideration for appointment as first vice president, a key post in Ahmadinejad's new government.
As described by Samareh Hashemi, Iran's offer is similar to a call by President Obama in April to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons. At the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month, Obama is scheduled to chair a special U.N. session aimed at seeking broad consensus on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons rather than on targeting individual nations such as Iran and North Korea. Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to attend the U.N. meeting and has said he is ready to debate Obama in front of the world media.
"It's not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said of Tehran's package of proposals. "Iran reiterated its view that as far as it is concerned, its nuclear file is closed. . . . That is certainly not the case. There are many outstanding issues."
But Crowley did not shut the door completely. He said the United States was consulting with its other negotiating partners: Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. "We'll be looking to see how ready Iran is to actually engage, and we will be testing that willingness to engage in the next few weeks," he said.
France said Thursday it is studying the proposals along with the other P5-plus-one members. Russia said it hopes negotiations with Iran will resume in the near future.
The negotiating group, known as the P5-plus-one because it includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, has sought unsuccessfully since 2006 to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. The group wants Iran to abandon its program to enrich uranium, which Iran insists it needs to ensure an independent source of fuel for nuclear power plants. Highly enriched uranium can also be used in nuclear weapons, however, leading the United States and other Western nations to suspect that Iran secretly plans to divert the material to a weapons program.
Earlier this year, the group offered to provide economic and security benefits to Iran in return for suspension of Tehran's enrichment activity and international oversight. The proposals delivered Wednesday amounted to Iran's counteroffer.
In the interview, Samareh Hashemi called Washington's Iran policy a "paradox" and said it was influenced by "Zionists." He refused to confirm or deny that the Obama administration has sent two secret letters to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying only that he would "respond later" to questions about the matter.
The top presidential aide said the United States has not submitted any request to open a consular office or interests section in Tehran, an idea that was floated in Washington last year. "If such a request comes, we will study it positively," he said.
He said Iran has given the United States "practical proposals" in the past to improve relations, including a request for direct airline flights between Tehran and New York. "But the Americans gave no response," he said.
Samareh Hashemi also called on the United States to apologize for "interfering in Iran's election and other instances of meddling," attacked America's two-party political system and denounced "liberal democracy" in Western nations. "Both the internal and external signs of this Western liberal democracy show that it's approaching defeat and collapse," he said.
Ahmadinejad began a second presidential term last month after his government effectively crushed opposition protests over his disputed reelection in June. He has accused the West of orchestrating the protests.
Addressing the nuclear issue, Samareh Hashemi strongly rejected a senior U.S. diplomat's accusation Wednesday that Iran "is now either very near or in possession" of enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon. The diplomat, Glyn Davies, Washington's chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said in a speech, "We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option." He charged that Iran's continuing enrichment activity, in defiance of three U.N. Security Council resolutions, "moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity."
Samareh Hashemi charged in reply that the United States is allowing its position on the issue to be dictated by Israel. "These are not the words of the Americans," he said. "This is the Israelis speaking. It's better that the Americans give their own opinion."
"Iran not only does not want to make nuclear weapons, but is actually intensely against nuclear weapons," said the aide, who managed Ahmadinejad's reelection campaign and has held key positions in the Iranian Foreign and Interior ministries. "In all truth, Iran is trying to establish a new regime to prevent nuclear weapons worldwide." He said the threat from nuclear weapons today comes from the countries that possess them, not from Iran.
Asked whether Iran's proposal contains any mention of suspending its uranium enrichment program, Samareh Hashemi said that "methods of preventing development of nuclear weapons and a widespread system for preventing . . . the proliferation of nuclear weapons are a part of the package."
He added: "Since nuclear weapons are an international threat, with the cooperation of all countries we can design an international framework that, basically, prevents research, production, multiplying and keeping nuclear weapons and also moves toward destruction of present nuclear weapons. Iran is ready in this path to offer any and every kind of cooperation and effort. No country must be exempt from this international framework against nuclear weapons. "
Iran maintains that its archenemy, Israel, possesses nuclear weapons, and it has often accused the West of having a double standard regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has no conclusive evidence that Iran is trying to militarize its nuclear program, which Iran says is meant solely to generate electricity. But on Wednesday the agency said it was in a "logjam" with Iran and that there were still outstanding questions over the nature of its atomic program.
With the new package it is proposing, Iran wants to remove those doubts by establishing a broad international system that would force not only Iran but countries that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as Israel, India and Pakistan, to be completely open about their nuclear intentions, Samareh Hashemi explained.
Giving up uranium enrichment, a key demand by the P5-plus-one group, is not necessary for Iran, he said. He argued that Iran's nuclear activities are within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and abide by agreements and contracts made with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said that signatories of the treaty, such as Iran, are entitled to enrich uranium. "It is very obvious that legal and lawful activities are the right of every nation," Samareh Hashemi said.
It is Western countries that should change their ways, he said. "In fact, they divide the world into two groups: first-degree and second-degree humans," he said.
Samareh Hashemi, who often goes on foreign missions for Ahmadinejad, announced an Iranian diplomatic offensive to reform the world's power structures, which he said are promoting " injustice."
He called for the structure of the U.N. Security Council, with its "veto privilege for the permanent members," to be changed to reflect what he described as new realities in the world.
The United States and other Western nations "are too irresponsible to run the world," Samareh Hashemi said. "Naturally, everything needs to be changed."
Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington and special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie in Tehran contributed to this report.