By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 11, 2009
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.
In a set of proposals handed to the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on Wednesday, Iran also offered to cooperate on solving problems in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism and to collaborate on oil and gas projects, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi said. A longtime confidant of the president's, Samareh Hashemi is reportedly being considered for the key post of first vice president 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. Later this month, Obama is scheduled to chair a special session of the U.N. General Assembly's annual meeting aimed at seeking consensus on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, rather than 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 publicly.
"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 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.
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the administration had determined it would not reject the package out of hand but would see whether there were elements that could form the basis for substantive talks. The written offer notably did not include criticism of the United States.
France said Thursday that it is studying the proposals along with the other "P5-plus-one" members. Russia said it hopes negotiations with Iran will resume soon.
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 since 2006 to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. The group wants Iran to abandon its program to enrich uranium, which the latter 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," influenced by "Zionists." He said Iran has offered "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.
He said the United States has not asked 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.
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 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 rejected an accusation Wednesday by Glyn Davies, Washington's chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that Iran "is now either very near or in possession" of enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon and appeared to be attempting to preserve a nuclear weapons option. 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," Davies said.
"This is the Israelis speaking," said Samareh Hashemi, who managed Ahmadinejad's reelection campaign and has held key positions in the Foreign and Interior ministries. "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," he said. "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, a key demand of the P5-plus-one group, Samareh Hashemi said that would not be necessary, asserting that the country's activities are in accord with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and agreements with the IAEA. "Lawful activities are the right of every nation," he said.
The IAEA has said it has no conclusive evidence that Iran is trying to militarize its nuclear program. But the agency said Wednesday that it is in a "logjam" with Iran and that questions remain about the nature of its atomic program.
With the package it is proposing, Iran wants to remove those doubts by establishing an international system that would force not only Iran but countries that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as Israel, India and Pakistan, to be open about their nuclear intentions, Samareh Hashemi said.
"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 weapons and also moves toward destruction of present nuclear weapons," he said. "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 archenemy Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and it has often accused the West of having a double standard regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington and special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie in Tehran contributed to this report.