How Tehran Wants to Fix the World

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Seyed Abbas Araghchi & Kaveh L. Afrasiabi 

Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran's envoy to Japan
Interview by Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Iran wants to enter into "serious and targeted" negotiations with major nations on a wide range of issues, including nuclear energy, Tehran said in a new package of proposals. These were outlined in a letter from Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon. The "Proposed Package for Constructive Negotiations" included offers for talks on nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of atomic technology.

Tehran also proposes creating "enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world – including Iran" and calls for "improved supervision" by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The package also seeks talks on worldwide economic, political and security issues, including cooperation to help Palestinians "find a comprehensive plan - one that is sustainable, democratic and fair".

Kaveh L Afrasiabi spoke to Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran's ambassador to Japan on the package. Prior to his appointment, Araghchi led the Iranian delegation at the first round of United States-Iran dialogue on Iraq's security.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi: What is the purpose of Iran's package of proposals that deals with contemporary international issues and problems?

Seyed Abbas Araghchi: This package represents where Iran stands on important regional and international issues and first and foremost clarifies our understanding of the nature of some of the most important problems in the world today - on political, security, economic and energy levels, and on the question of the peaceful use of nuclear energy - and the prudent responses to them that in our opinion calls for drastic changes in terms of a paradigmatic shift in both the analysis of issues as well as the policy prescriptions.

KA: What is your reaction to some skeptics, especially in the United States, who argue that Iran's package is simply a propaganda tool in reaction to the package of incentives that the Iran Six nations [the UN Security Council's five permanent members - the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain, plus Germany], have prepared to submit to Iran?

SA: Unfortunately, Iran's intentions are often misinterpreted in the West. This is partly because of an arrogant, Western-centric approach that looks down on other countries and underestimates their ability to initiate solutions for global problems, as if those countries always act reactively, when in fact our initiative demonstrates the fallacy of this approach.

KA: Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has stated that Iran's package reflects "more convergence with the West" on the nuclear issue. Please elaborate.

SA: That is correct. We have clearly stated a list of common problems and certainly the issue of nuclear proliferation and the risks to humanity posed by dangerous nuclear weapons and the absence of any real movement toward disarmament is one of them. We have presented a detailed perspective on what needs to be done, the concrete steps necessary, to tackle the threat of nuclear proliferation, calling into question the double standards of certain countries that are proliferators themselves and hold the bar so low for themselves and, yet, they seek to deflect attention away from themselves by leveling unfounded accusations against countries such as Iran, which is a signatory of the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] and is in good standing with the IAEA.

KA: In your opinion, what adjustments should the West adopt in its current approach toward Iran?

SA: The West should stop its coercive and threatening approach toward Iran that simply does not work with the great nation of Iran. Iran responds only to logic and understanding, and to genuine offers of cooperation to tackle shared issues such as global poverty, inequality, extremism, and so on. The West is not a homogenous entity of course and one can see a growing divergence of security understanding between the US and Europe, for instance.

The West's approach toward Iran's nuclear program is mired in contradiction: it seeks to get a special arrangement from Iran, that is, compromising Iran's NPT rights, while at the same time pledging loyalty to the non-proliferation regime, even though in reality that is more like subverting it by such illegal demands from Iran. That is certainly one key area that the West needs to adjust.

KA: Iran's package refers to "common security problems" and yet does not seem to include food security. Do you agree?

SA: That is not so. We have addressed it in the section dealing with global poverty and inequality and we firmly believe that along with energy security, the issue of food security is equally important especially for the world's have-nots who live in the Third World.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.