Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, who was at the United Nations last week, sat down with Lally Weymouth of Newsweek and The Post to discuss U.S. concerns over Iran's nuclear program, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Excerpts:
Q. Is Iran seeking a uranium enrichment capability solely to fuel nuclear power reactors, or is it also to give your country a nuclear option in the future?
A. It is solely for producing fuel needed in our power plants, because we propose to have seven power plants. It is not for producing nuclear weapons.
The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] does not seem to be persuaded that you are living up to the agreement that you made with the Europeans in the fall of 2003 -- to stop enriching uranium.
They expect us not to produce any spare parts for centrifuge machines. We have suspended the enrichment process, but they are asking us to suspend related activities, by which they mean the production of spare parts. For some time, in an agreement with the Europeans, we stopped manufacturing spare parts. But the Europeans were supposed to work actively to close Iran's file at the IAEA. Since they failed to meet their commitments, we did not find ourselves committed to the agreement.
Once Iran has the uranium enrichment capability, won't it give you the ability to pursue a nuclear weapons program?
We are capable to enrich uranium, and we are capable to manufacture all machinery that is needed [in this process]. But this does not mean that we are capable of producing [nuclear] weapons.
What you are doing, reportedly, is testing centrifuges, which are the last part of the nuclear fuel cycle. Once you test the centrifuges, aren't you set to go?
No, testing centrifuges is to produce uranium 235, which is good for fuel.
But centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, which is used to make nuclear weapons.
Centrifuges can be used to make highly enriched uranium. We do not have a plan to produce highly enriched uranium as needed for weapons.
Couldn't Iran reap the benefit of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy without having to enrich uranium and thus alarming the international community?
That means we'd have to buy fuel from outside the country. We want to be self-sufficient in producing fuel.
Are you worried that Israel may strike your nuclear facilities?
It is a threat, and when there is a threat, you have to take it into consideration and be prepared to react. We are prepared.
Like the Shahab missile?
There are capabilities that we will use. Shahab missiles are well developed and made in Iran, and we are proud of having them.
Reportedly, Iran's intelligence services are providing support to insurgents who are attacking coalition forces in Iraq.
That is quite wrong. On the contrary, we have been quite helpful in defusing the crisis in Iraq -- especially in Najaf.
Would you like to see the coalition forces leave Iraq?
Yes. Insurgents say that since their land is occupied, they have to resist. So, the best way [out] is to maintain security by Iraqi forces and let the multinational forces leave.
What is your assessment of the current security situation in Iraq?
It is a very dangerous place. Killings and kidnappings are increasing. Coalition forces are unable to secure Iraq, and the government is facing many problems. The people of Iraq are delighted Saddam Hussein is gone, but they are not happy with the presence of foreign troops. That was America's mistake. They thought that if people opposed Saddam Hussein, they would welcome the presence of Americans.
You seem to agree with the Americans that the Iraqi elections should take place in January.
That's right. It is a very important first step for a solution to the crisis. We need to get a representative government in place.
What is your vision for the future of Iraq?
We would like to see one integrated Iraq and a democratic government in place.
Is Iran ready to join many other countries in advocating a two-state solution for the Israelis and the Palestinians and also to end its support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad?
If the Palestinians decide to have two states, we don't mind, but we are for a one-state solution.
Is there any prospect for an Iranian-U.S. dialogue?
No, I don't see any prospects at this time because the policies of the United States in the Middle East have been so wrong. They have left no room for any rapprochement, especially in the case of Iran. They have interfered in our internal affairs and have talked about a change in regime.
[Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami was looked on as a reformer. Now it looks as if the hard-liners are back in control. Is the road to liberalism dead?
Reformists pushed too much, and there were some setbacks. But in general, reform has been ongoing. No one can stop reforms. Seventy percent of Iranians are under 35 years old, and so reform is inevitable regardless of who is in power.
Do you think it would be better for your country if Senator Kerry won the upcoming presidential election?
We cannot evaluate the future of any president by his election slogans.
Some people here say "anybody but Bush." Do you agree with that?
We are not happy with President Bush. He has adopted wrong policies -- against Iran and the Middle East. The majority of the people in the Middle East are against the policies of Bush. His policies have resulted in hatred of the U.S. in Muslim countries.