Iran will remain defiant on economic sanctions


Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks to MARY FITZGERALD, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

IRAN’S foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, yesterday shrugged off the prospect of further EU sanctions beyond those approved by the UN Security Council earlier this week.

European leaders are expected to agree next week on the need for more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear enrichment programme. Diplomats say the measures could be finalised in July.

“Whatever action Europe decides to take, we will take commensurate action in response,” Mottaki told The Irish Times yesterday.

“In the past few years, when it comes to the relations between Iran and Europe, in those instances where there has been a drop in relations, very easily we have managed to fill the gap and find replacements in other parts of the world.”

Speaking in Dublin during a two-day visit, Mottaki declared the UN Security Council’s action “illegal”; he insisted that the sanctions would have no economic impact on Iran; and he reiterated that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions go no further than seeking atomic power for peaceful, energy purposes.

“The [Security Council] cannot punish a state for allegations which have not been proven. Such actions bring into question its standing and good name,” he said.

Mottaki, dressed in the standard white-shirted, tieless garb of Iranian officials, noted that this week’s resolution, passed with 12 votes in favour, received the least support of all four Iran sanctions resolutions adopted since 2006. This, he argued, showed that President Obama “does not have the necessary authority” to persuade others.

“The problem is you cannot trust what Mr Obama says and he cannot keep his promises . . . it seems that the power of some other sources in the United States is more than that of Mr Obama,” he said.

“He has been successful in talking but everybody was waiting for his success in action. Unfortunately until now there is nothing there. I heard a joke that it would be good if Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama changed positions with each other.”

In light of this week’s sanctions vote, Mottaki said a Turkey and Brazil brokered deal, under which Iran agreed to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for specially processed fuel, required a “serious review” but did not divulge what this might entail.

He rejected suggestions that incidents, including the discovery last year that Iran had been secretly developing an enrichment plant near Qom, create the impression that Tehran cannot be trusted on the issue of its nuclear ambitions.

“This impression is not a correct impression,” he said.

“To clear up any possible ambiguities in the minds of others, we clearly announced that after the facilities in Qom we intend to build 10 other facilities, and this is well before any construction happens on the ground.”

Iranian officials have been highly critical of Yukiya Amano, who last year replaced Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Amano this week described Iran as a “special case” because “of the existence of issues related to possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme”. Asked to what extent Iran’s relationship with the IAEA had deteriorated under its new head, Mottaki said: “I am not going to make any judgements here. We have always conducted ourselves within the confines of the laws and the regulations in our interaction with any person or party, or state for that matter.”

But he said Amano “needs to review the IAEA dossier from the very start” and warned that the IAEA head was “not permitted to enter the spheres which are outside his portfolio”.

Tehran has been particularly riled by Amano’s insistence that it answer questions about its general missile programme.

“Mr Amano cannot refer to or get himself involved in our defensive efforts which include our missile programme to counter the threats we are dealing with . . . every week we are threatened with military attacks by the officials of the Zionist regime,” Mottaki said.

Last week, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the blockade on Gaza by declaring Israel would not “allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza” – a reference to accusations that Tehran funds and arms Hamas. Mottaki, after condemning Israel’s fatal raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla as “barbaric”, rejected this outright. “We have announced humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza but we do not take part in military assistance to the Palestinians. It is impossible,” he claimed.

This weekend will mark the first anniversary of Iran’s disputed presidential poll. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election last June prompted widespread demonstrations which were eventually snuffed out in a brutal security crackdown. Since then, apart from intermittent street protests, talk of divided loyalties abounds within the country’s opaque political, security, and clerical spheres. Many argue that the Islamic Republic faces one of its greatest internal challenges since it came into being in 1979.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is experiencing a new era but it is not divided,” Mottaki insisted. “Conditions inside the country are now completely calm. However, it is very clear that some high ranking officials of my country have different points of view. But, where should such different points of view manifest themselves? In a civil society, [it] should be at the ballot box.”

Mottaki argued that last year’s high election turnout “created its own expectations” and hinted that authorities were taken aback by the post-election mood.

“Such developments as took place after the elections would have required for us to be much more prepared. Managing an emotive condition inside the society is, I have to admit, no easy task.” Unprompted, Mottaki mentioned the death of Neda Soltan, the student whose shooting days after the election made her a potent opposition symbol. Her killing, he said, needed “serious further study”. Asked who he suspects was responsible, Mottaki replied: “Investigations are ongoing.”

He recalled the turbulent early years that followed the 1979 revolution. “Many people said then that the Islamic Republic was finished but [it] managed to stand on its own two feet . . . In the past 30 years we have weathered many ups and downs,” he said.

“There have always been different points of view inside Iran between Iranian officials . . . We need to try to come to terms with these differing points of view . . . and, to the best of our ability, push things towards a manageable situation.”

And if people take to the streets this weekend to mark the anniversary? Should there be a less heavy-handed security response this time?

“This depends on the observance of the regulations,” he said. “It is natural that if violations happen, they will carry with them their own particular repercussions.”

A diplomatic career from MP to foreign minister

From Bandar Gaz in northern Iran, Manouchehr Mottaki studied in India before serving as an MP in the first post-revolution Majlis (parliament) in 1980. Before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed him foreign minister in 2005, Mottaki had held several key positions in the Iranian foreign ministry, including deputy foreign minister. He also served as Iran’s ambassador to Turkey in the 1980s and to Japan in the late 1990s. In the 2005 presidential election, Mottaki oversaw Ali Larijani’s campaign bid.

Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2005 and 2007, is now speaker of the Majlis. Mottaki’s wife is the head of human rights and women’s affairs at the foreign ministry.

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