The Voice of Russia
Jan. 28, 2011
Sergei Strokan: This week we would obviously start with the recent terrorist attack at Moscow Domodedovo international airport, than we would talk of the escalating Iranian nuclear crisis, and finally, we would commemorate a man who boasted to disintegrate the USSR and crush world communist system - the first Russian president Boris Yeltsin, whose 80-th birth anniversary would be commemorated these days in Russia. Besides, today we’re going to hear a rare interview I did for Kommersant with Ali Asgar Soltanieh, Iranian envoy to the United Nations. Does that sound fine with you?
Mira Salganik: To me Domodedovo bombing with all its horror and aftermath overshadowed everything. I was half mad. It was almost a sleepless week watching TV news updates, listening in, calling relatives and friends with the same question: "Are you all right?”
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Ekaterina Kudashkina: Thank you very much. Mr. Malashenko.
Sergei Strokan: Well, and here we get to our second heading Between the Lines, to discuss one of the most interesting publications of the week. And this time it’s a story with a long title that runs: "After nuclear talks fail, Iran rails at 'enemies' – and leaves door open for new round”. The story has been published by The Christian Science Monitor and is in fact a good analytical piece on the recent Iranian nuclear diplomacy.
Its basic point is that Iran is reacting to the collapse of nuclear talks in Istanbul with the rhetorical equivalent of Washington’s own dual-track policy on Iran: diplomacy and pressure.
And you know, Mira, I tend to agree with this statement. And it is all the more interesting that the fresh round of talks between Tehran and six world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, which was conducted in Istanbul on 21-22 of January, brought the sides nowhere. And that’s why I liked the story – it really gives us an all-round view of the Tehran’s strategy – they call Western powers enemies and at the same time claim – doors for negotiations are open.
Mira Salganik: But as far as I understand, no one expected much of talks in Istanbul.
Sergei Strokan: But, Mira, to quote the story, few predicted failure to get beyond Iran’s preconditions that its "right to enrich” uranium be stated, and that sanctions be lifted.
Mira Salganik: So, they went as far as that.
Sergei Strokan: Yes, Mira, and what’s more, after the talks Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili gave a long press-conference, and he said his up-front insistence on the two points "are not preconditions, rather they are requirements [also translated as prerequisites] for talks and discussions.”
Mira Salganik: But it’s outrageous!
Sergei Strokan: And there’s even more to it. In Tehran, the story goes, news media worked overtime to portray Iran as open and "ready” for all nuclear discussions and barely mentioned Iran’s deal-breaking preconditions. Politicians weighed in, accusing the West of "mistakes.”
Mira Salganik: What kind of mistakes, if I may ask?
Well, Ms. Ashton’s disappointment was a "mistake,” Jalali claimed, "since Iran has always announced its readiness for negotiations and today the ball is in the Westerners’ court.”
Isn’t he the Jalali who used to work at the foreign ministry as head of the European and American department? I suppose he was appointed to his current position in 2007?
Sergei Strokan: That’s right. And he was also described as someone more prone to ‘monologue’ rather than debate.” By the way, he had a 90-minute meeting with Ashton, during which he explained his position. According to Ashton’s own account, he explained he was discussing the situation in a big strategic approach, and – let me quote the story - it meant we should remove the obstacles, and the measures, and then we could move forward,” She replied that "there are steps on this road, and you have to take the steps, and actually the [UN] resolutions set out the process, which at the end, if we are all successful, would remove [sanctions] anyway.”
Mira Salganik: Good reply!
Sergei Strokan: Well, Mira, you know, there is some personal experience I want to share with you – and with our listeners - on the issue. Istanbul talks coincided with the surprise visit to Moscow by Ali Asgar Soltanieh, Iranian envoy to the United Nations and other international organization.
Mira Salganik: Oh, – he’s a high-ranking diplomat, who, I presume, at present is the third quoted Tehran official in the world after President Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Salehi. But why did he come to Moscow?
Sergei Strokan: Well, explaining the purpose of his trip Mr.Soltanieh said that he came "to give Russian writers, intellectuals, experts and media” first-hand information on how things stand with Iranian nuclear program – "to show the other side of the coin”, to use his own words. "We believe they would be able to covey our message to the policy-makers here”, he said.
Mira Salganik: That sounds interesting. So, did you talk to him?
Sergei Strokan: Oh, yes, Mira. I even did an interview with him. And – I invite you to listen to it now.
The first question is about the purpose of your visit to Moscow ahead of talks between the group of six and Tehran. Why did you choose Russia and not any other member of the group? We know that it was initiated by the Iranian side, so what was your message?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: We consider Russia a country playing an important role on the international arena. And we do have friendly relations with Russia, so expectations are high and we consider the fact that there is an absolute necessity of raising public awareness of all factual situations about Iran’s nuclear activities and Iran’s nuclear policy. We thought this would be very useful to have the possibility for getting first-hand information, bearing in mind the opportunity to intellectuals, writers and think-tanks, which would be able to explain to the decision-makers and the media, so that real information would be revealed to Russia and the whole world. That’s why I was interviewed by Russia Today. Therefore, I expect that Russia Today in English would also reveal it to the whole world what the other side of the coin is. You might have seen only the one side and you will judge it for yourself.
Sergei Strokan: Did I get you right that the primary purpose of your visit to Moscow is to inform the Russian publicity about what the situation around the Iranian nuclear program really is?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Public opinion, scientists and scholars. But I haven’t met with officials. I have a good and continuous sort of interaction with your ambassador in Vienna, but I though this is the time for the Russian public to find out everything.
Sergei Strokan: Does your visit indicate the special privileged relations between Moscow and Tehran?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Yes, that is the case in fact. Russia’s involvement in the Bushehr power plant project, which Germany had not finished and which is going to give electricity soon, provides a very positive image of Russia as a reliable partner for nuclear cooperation in the future as well.
Sergei Strokan: Mr. Soltanieh, the main stumbling block in Iranian dealings with the international community is the issue of uranium enrichment up to 20 percent. Recently, the Iranian side made it clear that despite sanctions and any pressure, Iran will go ahead with enriching uranium. Can we expect that Tehran will once give up this policy and impose a moratorium on it? If yes, what are the terms for this?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Let me tell you very simply: we have repeatedly said that all nuclear and enrichment activities are under fullest control of the IAEA. In 2003, we voluntarily suspended enrichment activities for two and a half years following an associated request from the three EU countries - the UK, France and Germany. But we found out that they wanted the complete cessation of all nuclear activities. And two and a half years later, they expanded the suspension to almost total cessation. And then we thought it was enough and our parliament said we are not going to suspend enrichment any more. WE continued, but under the IAEA control. But regarding the 20 percent, this is something different. We wanted to give an opportunity to other suppliers to provide fuel for the Tehran nuclear reactor. That is why I officially wrote a letter to IAEA Director General Mohamed el Baradei and asked for fuel. In October 2009, Russia, France and the US held talks. Although normally they pay and get fuel through the IEAE, this time, unfortunately, they put a condition that we should pay for it and that we should also give a nuclear uranium equivalent to the supplier. We suggested checking this material in Iran under IEAE control and then, as soon as the fuel is ready, sending it from Russia to France to exchange them. But this issue wasn’t ever negotiated again. Then, Brazil and Turkey had a very honest and sincere initiative and we accepted it as a big compromise - to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium produced in Iran to turkey and then get the material. But this proposal was not yet implemented. We had to continue with the 20 percent in order to produce fuel for our own. What I want to tell you here again is that the Tehran declaration is on the table. We are still ready to send 1,200 kilograms of material abroad. The sooner this happens, the quicker the situation will change. But, if they do not use of waste time, it will be a great disadvantage, because we do not technically need to until all the 1,200 kilograms are ready up to 20 percent. Now we have some 40 kilograms for use. As soon as the first fuel rod is ready and we put it into the core of the reactor, then there is no justification for further negotiations between the US, Russia and France in Vienna. That opportunity of new diplomacy and cooperation will be lost forever. Therefore, I advice them to come back as soon as possible to the Vienna negotiations table
Sergei Strokan: Can we say that if Iran gets international guarantees of stable uranium fuel shipments, it will change its stand concerning enrichment?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: We don’t trust this because of the past experience. America’s got $2 million for the fuel for the Tehran reactor before the revolution; that fuel was ready to be shipped but we got neither fuel nor money. Almost the same with France.
Sergei Strokan: But maybe you trust Russia?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Unfortunately, in the last project Russia said no and said it needed France also. Russian wants to give this material to France and then to us. France has 50 tons of our natural uranium but did not deliver it to Iran. France is not giving natural uranium, so how can we believe that it will give us 20 percent uranium? The whole world should know what happened. I was ambassador to Vienna and saw debates on creating an international document to guarantee fuel supplies to Iran. Seven years of negotiations failed. Therefore, there are no legally binding instruments that can give us international guarantees. And even for the Bushehr power plant we have only received the first fuel load. After a year we don’t have any contract as yet. I want to say that we are now facing a historical deadlock as to the Security Council in New York. It is a crisis of legitimacy of the Security Council. Its resolutions have no legal basis. I’ve already said that there are four reasons for this and we will not implement them because they are not implementable.
Sergei Strokan: Mr. Soltanieh, you are a professional diplomat and you know that of course there are some UN Security Council’s resolutions that may be to the liking. Maybe they are imperfect, but people have not yet worked out other internationally binding legal mechanisms to solve this issue. Resolutions of the Security Council should be respected.
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Those who wrote these resolutions are mainly western counties. They made a mistake. They wrote something contradictory to the statute of the IAEA and there is no legality for it therefore. They should be courageous enough to come and tell the whole world "look, we’ve made a mistake, the language of the resolution is wrong and we will now cooperate.”
Sergei Strokan: Mr. Soltanieh, I want to ask you another question regarding the recent trip of ambassadors to visit your nuclear facilities. Why didn’t you invite American diplomats - the most outspoken critics of you?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Did you appreciate that we invited others apart from the members of the non-alignment movement and G77? We invited Russia and China, the EU. I also sent invitations to two exceptional diplomats - the ambassador of Hungary, which now chairs the EU, and a representative of Madam Ashton. I invited everybody in the whole world.
Sergei Strokan: Why were America, Britain, Germany and France not on the list?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: Britain, Germany and France are members of the EU.
Sergei Strokan: America is not an EU member.
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: I invited Mrs. Ashton and she is a representative of 5 plus one group. She may be called a representative of the whole world. We gave them a clear message that everything is transparent in Iran.
Sergei Strokan: One more question, Mr. Soltanieh. You have a positive cooperation experience with Russia concerning the Bushehr power plant. We know there were some statements by the Iranian side that you may build more plants. What are Russian chances for winning tenders? What are the prospects for our cooperation?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: A very good question. According to the decision by our parliament, we are embarking 20,000 megawatts - twenty times Bushehr. We are going to create another 20 plants and we welcome all potential suppliers to conclude a contract. If Russia joins the project, it will have more priority because of the trust based on the Bushehr experience.
Sergei Strokan: I would like to ask you a very sensitive question and you may refuse to answer it. To what extent did the image of Russia change after it supported UN resolutions and gave up the idea of selling S-300 missiles to Iran?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: That was very disappointing.
Sergei Strokan: But you still consider Russia to be a partner?
Ali Adgar Soltanieh: We have good friendly relations with Russia and hope they will be improved. We count on better future, particularly in the sphere of nuclear energy.
Sergei Strokan: Thank you very much for the interview. Let me wish you success.
Now we are coming to the concluding heading of Red Line - The Man in the News.
The man of this week is Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the Russian Federation who would have been 80 on February 1.
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