The Bush administration has adopted a hard-line stance against Iran, repeatedly accusing President Khatami’s government of trying to develop nuclear weapons and refusing to hold direct talks. We speak with veteran journalist Dilip Hiro, author of the forthcoming book, "Iranian Labyrinth," about the U.S. threats towards Tehran. [includes rush transcript]
Since the January elections in Iraq, the Bush administration has been touting what it calls its success in beginning the process of democratizing Iraq. And officials have said that an era of sweeping change is hitting the Middle East. Supporters of the administration have celebrated the recent events in Lebanon that brought down the country’s government following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Anti-government demonstrations have also taken place in Egypt for the first time in years. Meanwhile, Washington continues to amplify its rhetoric against Syria and Iran. In the coming weeks on Democracy Now!, we will be taking a close look at the Bush administrations claim that it is bringing democracy to the region. Later in this program, we will be joined by the famed Egyptian feminist Nawal al Sadaawi. We will also look at recent developments in Syria with two leading Syrian human rights activists. But first, we begin with Iran. The White House has repeatedly accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and has so far refused to hold direct talks. European countries on the other hand, have been engaged in dialogue with President Khatami"s government and have stressed diplomacy. In what seemed to be a contradiction of U.S. policy, the Russian government agreed a few days ago to supply spent nuclear fuel for an Iranian nuclear reactor. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about the move in an interview on Britain"s ITN News.
- Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, March 1, 2005.
Throughout the process, Iran has denied it is developing a nuclear arms program and says it is within its legal right to pursue peaceful programs for nuclear energy. This is Sirus Nasseri, the head of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA.
- Sirus Nasseri, head of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA, March 2, 2005.
While the Bush administration has been urging the UN nuclear watchdog group to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions, the IAEA has maintained a focus on dialogue. This is what the head of the IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei, had to say.
- Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, March 2, 2005.
We turn now to Dilip Hiro. He is a veteran journalist on the Middle East. His trilogy of books on Iraq and Iran are considered some of the most definitive histories of the wars in the Persian Gulf. His forthcoming book is called "Iranian Labyrinth." He joins us on the line from Britan.
- Dilip Hiro
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Dilip Hiro. He is a veteran journalist on the Middle East. His trilogy of books on Iraq and Iran are considered some of the most definitive histories of the wars in the Persian Gulf. His forthcoming book is called Iranian Labyrinth. He joins us on the phone from Britain. Welcome to Democracy Now!
DILIP HIRO: Thank you. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the latest situation with Iran?
DILIP HIRO: Yeah. I think two things have happened. The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, issued a statement on Tuesday pointing out that there are certain questions which Iran has not clarified, and that’s one. The second point they have made is that there’s one specific military base called Parchin, and Iran has denied them access to all parts of that particular base. They had been there once before in January. They wanted to go again, and that has not happened. Then, of course, the following day, which is, of course, Wednesday, two statements were issued, one by the US representative on the Board of Governors of the IAEA, Jackie Sanders, and the other statement was issued by the European Union trial court of Britain, Germany and France. And a summary of that, of course, has appeared in The New York Times, and, of course, the Americans have said Iran is not complying with the Non-nuclear Proliferation Treaty, NPT, and they have broken this treaty, and they should be taken to the UN Security Council, whereas the European statement says that whatever happened, they deeply regret that, but, of course, they’re continuing to talk with Iran to come up with an agreement. The agreement would be basically — has two parts. One is that the Iranians would give up (in quote) "voluntarily," their right to enrich uranium, which is allowed under the nuclear NPT, and in return, the Europeans will help the Iranians with the civilian nuclear technology and other economic concessions, like making them most favored nation for the European Union trade and cooperation. And those talks are still going on. And, of course, there is, you know, on the March 25th, there is the meeting of the 35-member Board of Governors in Vienna, in which, of course, they meet every quarter, and so Iran will be at the top of their agenda.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Sirus Nasseri, head of the Iranian delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency?
SIRUS NASSERI: Nuclear fuel production is a part of a new created market in the very near future. Within a decade or so, there will be a much stronger demand for nuclear energy, in accordance to all forecasts, and therefore, a much stronger demand for nuclear fuel. We have the technology. We have the facilities. And we will produce nuclear fuel for our own consumption first, and hopefully one day, for making it available in a competitive manner to others who would require it. This is a position which is supported by law, and it is also a matter of common sense. Just as no other country who has such facilities is not prepared to give up such capacity and capability, it would be entirely wrong and misguided to ask Iran to give this capability up.
AMY GOODMAN: Sirus Nasseri, the head of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA. While the Bush administration has been urging the nuclear watchgroup to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions, the IAEA has maintained a focus on dialogue. This is what the head of the IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei had to say.
MOHAMED EL-BARADEI: If I say there are three more important things Iran needs to do, I should say transparency, transparency and more transparency. And that’s exactly where we are. We had a good meeting today with Iranian colleagues, and again I explained to them that it really is in their interest to make everything possible for us to speed up the process and conclude our investigation on the past program. That’s part of our work, which I think also will help in the dialogue that Iran is having now with the Europeans, because the more confidence it created in with regard to their past program, the more easier the Europeans and Iran will be able to focus on the future normalization of relations, in areas of economic relation, trade, technology and securities.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed El-Baradei, the head of the IAEA. When we come back from our break we’ll get the response from Dilip Hiro, who wrote a piece in The New York Times on Wednesday called "Allah and Democracy Can Get Along Fine." Then we’ll be joined by the famed Egyptian feminist, Nawal El Saadawi. And finally, we’ll speak about Syria with Syrians. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Dilip Hiro, who wrote a piece in The New York Times, "Allah and Democracy Can Get Along Fine." There is a big discussion going on in the United States right now, maybe in Britain, as well, Dilip Hiro, that Bush is bringing democracy to the Middle East. Your response.
DILIP HIRO: Yeah. I think actually, I would say a part of a spin because, of course, we know about the disaster the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has caused, and so they aren’t latching on to what happened in Iraq. The important point to remember about election in Iraq is that it — whatever happened, the credit for that goes to a gentleman or I should say an ayatollah, a Grand Ayatollah, Ali Sistani. He is, in my view, the most powerful person in Iraq today, and I have been saying this for the past two years. And there’s quite a lot about him in my book, Secrets and Lies. He issued a statement calling on all believing Muslims, the believers, that voting is a religious duty, a religious duty. And that is the reason why, you know, millions of Iraqis actually went to the polling stations and voted. And of course, at the same time, we have to see that when it comes to interpretation of Islam, those militants and insurgents who were against elections and did a lot of terrorist actions in that case were also quoting the Koran and Islam and saying that participating in this election will be un-Islamic. So whatever happened in Iraq, I would say 85% credit goes to Ayatollah Sistani. If Sistani had not issued the statement, if there would not have been tens of thousands of posters in which you see his bearded face and his Islamic decree in Arabic, that result would not have happened. Then, of course, we talk about the Palestinian Authority thing happened. Of course, the point about the Palestinian thing is that there was election, first time in — among — for the Palestinians in January 1996. At that time, the voter turnout was 88%, and Arafat won 87% of the vote. He had opposition. This time, in the wave of democracy that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are drumming up, only about 65% of the people went to vote in Palestinian elections, and of that, less than 60% voted for Mr. Abbas. So, overall, Mr. Abbas had about 40% of the total vote. So it is not something which has happened because of what Bush and Blair have done in Iraq, as I explained, these two particular examples, and if you want more specifically, you mentioned my op-ed piece in The New York Times written from Doha in Qatar. I was in Doha in Qatar where, of course, there is Al-Jazeera television. There also is the forward base of the CENTCOM, on the outskirts of Doha. Now, there, the Emir of Qatar, Emir Hamad Al-Thani, he actually abolished censorship in 1998. 1998. So, this has nothing to do with Bush and his invasion of Iraq, and in fact, he abolished the censorship because he abolished the Ministry of Information, and Al-Jazeera had been there since November 1996, and whenever such stalwarts of democracy like Colin Powell, like Donald Rumsfeld, turned to Emir of Qatar and said, 'Mr. Emir, Mr. Emir, Mr. Hamad Al-Thani, you must curb Al-Jazeera. They're anti-American.’ So the man, this Emir, would turn around and say, 'Excuse me, sir, I abolished censorship in my country in 1998. Here is the Constitution.' That Constitution has 148 articles, and one of the articles specifically says — I have the actual Constitution, which I have quoted in the op-ed in The New York Times on Tuesday — it says, there’s freedom of the press and expression in Qatar. So he said, 'Why are you — you are asking me, (in quote) "advising me" that I should curb Al-Jazeera, impose censorship in a country where there is no censorship?' Now, is anybody going to explain to me that this Emir did all of this in 1998, March 1998, to be specific, just because it’s the way of democracy?
As far as Lebanon is concerned, let me say something very quickly and specifically. You know, this is again from a dictionary of the Middle East, The Essential Middle East, that in Lebanon, the implantation of democracy was done by the French. Then they had the mandate in Lebanon, they created the Republic of Lebanon, and the Constitution of Lebanon was done by the French. They have elections in Lebanon since 1927. There were no elections during the Civil War from 1975-1990. So it isn’t that Mr. Bush and Dr. Rice came along and gave this, you know, go ahead to democracy in Lebanon. It’s been going on much longer than that. And finally, of course, Iran — let me just, because my next book is on Iran, and I wish Dr. Rice would pick up the copy and read chapter two of that, which is that since Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, there have been seven parliamentary elections. There have been eight presidential elections. There have been two local elections. There have been three elections to the Assembly of Experts. If you add them all up, you get 20 elections in Iran over the past 24 years, and have we heard Dr. Rice or Colin Powell or Mr. Bush saying, 'Hurrah-hurrah-hurrah?' And where they are going 'hurrah-hurrah-hurrah' is this election, so-called election, in Saudi Arabia. Now, Saudi Arabia, the elections were promised in Saudi Arabia in 1962. You heard me right, 1962. So, after 42 years, elections were held, local elections, and in that election, only half of the members elected, and even then the Saudi citizens were so cynical about the whole thing that only one quarter of the Saudi men — only men are allowed to vote — bothered to register, and when elections came, only two-thirds of them bothered to go to the polling stations. So now, that particular election, if you were to read Mr. Bush’s speeches, especially the one he delivered at the American Enterprise Institute last year, that great democracy is coming in Saudi Arabia because they have held these elections, which, you know, is a bit of a joke. I happened to be in Doha when these elections were held, and the people in Qatar were just, you know, snickering at this. What? We had our local national elections in 1999, and there were women candidates, and then we had another election in 2003. There were women candidates. One of them won, and in that country of Doha in Qatar there is a Minister of Education who is a woman. So is somebody telling me that it was Mr. Bush, that he is stoking the fires of democracy?
AMY GOODMAN: Dilip Hiro, we’re going to have to leave it there.
DILIP HIRO: Okay.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. Dilip Hiro is author of The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide, forthcoming book is Iranian Labyrinth.