Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Rafsanjani's interview with The New York Times

Interview With Iranian Presidential Candidate


TEHRAN, May 23 — Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president and presumed front runner in the June 17 presidential race, was interviewed on Monday by Neil MacFarquhar. Mr. Rafsanjani spoke for an hour in Farsi through an official translator.

Q. Why were so many candidates disqualified in the presidential elections

A. Our election law has flaws. I don’t think over 1,000 people register for president in other countries. Usually a certain number register under pre-determined conditions. The law needs to be reformed.

Q. Some people that we talked to today said it is a mistake to have the Guardian Council screen the candidates because it is an unelected body and the practice makes the process undemocratic. How would you react to that?

A. Every country has a body that determines the conditions. It is true that they are not elected by the people, but six of them need to be approved by members of Parliament, who are representatives of the people. But whatever it is, it is based on our constitution.

Q. A couple of analysts said the government did it to make it easier for you to win. Is that true?

A. The opposite is true! Because all those who want to compete with me have been endorsed.

Q. Throughout your presidency and that of President Khatami there has been a constant tension between the reformists and conservatives. Mr. Khatami was unable to put through many of the reforms in terms of freedom of speech and other civil rights. I know you had similar problems during your administration. What would you do differently to allow those kinds of reforms to move forward?

A. Isn’t there tension in the United States between the two major political parties? No other viable candidate can get anywhere except for the one who is with one of these two parties. The tension between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush was more than the tension in Iran. People of the U.S. have no choice but to choose between one of these two candidates. And, In Britain, which is one of your allies, there is constant tension between the conservatives and the labor party. They drag one another to court. I think it is more decent in Iran than in any other country.

Q. There were a lot of reforms that the previous government tried to put in place but was blocked. What would you do as President to get those enforced?

A. When I was president I was able to put through anything I wanted. I think there are certain things that are doable. I will not give empty promises and will make promises that I can deliver.

Q. What will you do if the judiciary shuts down a newspaper?

A. I will object if it does it illegally. But we will accept the decision if it is legal.

Q. Don’t you think any newspaper that wants to publish should be allowed to?

A. It is like other countries here. Whenever the judiciary does something, there is a countervailing body that can bring balance in the system.

Q. The criticism that I hear both from the inside and outside the country is that Iran has a veneer of democracy but the tools are not there so that everybody can use it. Will there ever be a democracy in Iran where all ideologies are allowed to compete openly?

A. We think it is the opposite and there is only a veneer of democracy in the Untied States and we have a real democracy. Election laws are so complicated in your country that people have no choice but to vote for one of the candidates who are with one of the two parties. The electoral system in U.S. has put the election out of the control of people and independent groups.

Q. People we have talked to say they liked what happened in Iraq. Secular and religious parties were allowed to run. There was a broad spectrum and people had a choice. But they say that they don’t have a choice in Iran.

A. The Sunnis boycotted the elections. What you are saying is not right. If you make a fair comparison between Iran and your country, you see people have a wide choice in Iran. Our members are allowed to vote freely after they go to Parliament. But we see that your representatives have to vote within the decisions of the party. Our MPs make their decisions on their own.

Q. On social issues, younger people hope the next president will be able to open up the society and make the rules less restrictive. What would you tell to people who say that the veil for women should be voluntary?

A. We have to go back to Western countries again. In France you see that they do not allow women to go to school wearing headscarves. In Turkey, which is your ally again, there is a similar restriction. It seems that you look at freedom through a certain lens.

Q. I am not really sure that Iranian women care what happens in France or Turkey, they care about what happens in Iran.

A. We are Muslims and we enforce the Islamic law which is also in our constitution.

Q. There are some people who hope you will change some of those social laws when you are elected. What do you think of that?

A. I think certain extreme measures should not have taken place. Sometimes extremists go beyond the law. Even Islam says one should not interfere in the private lives of people. Their privacy should remain a private matter. We can follow the guidelines in Islam that encourage creating peace and calm for people.

For example, some want to interfere in the color of women’s clothing or decide what the shape of their dress should be. They do not like to see the mingling of men and women in public places. These are personal tastes of certain segments of society who are more religious than others. For example they do not like to see mixed classes at universities. They have prying eyes and they want to see what goes on in people’s houses. They like to interfere in the private lives of people and break up their parties.

Q. Some people say you will open up the economy and will try to follow some of the changes you did under your previous term. Some others object and say there was a lot of corruption in your government. Do you think you have an image problem?

A. Yes, they make these comments. But the second one is not true. We were very tough and hard on those who committed those kinds of acts. But we will follow a more liberal economic policy. In fact, the leadership (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) endorsed the amendments to Article 44 of the constitution, which will grant freedom in foreign investment. We worked on this issue at the Expediency Council, as his advisory body, and he made the pronouncement. This law will cut the size of the government. The private sector will be allowed to take over many large investments. It will boost the stock market. Scattered capital will be invested in the economy. I believe if you look at from the perspective of an expert, you will see what great developments will take place.

Q. Is it true that the economy breaks down to 40 percent state owned, 45 percent owned by semi-official foundations and 15 percent owned by the private sector? If these numbers are correct, how would you like to see the balance?

A. These figures are not correct. We recently examined this issue at the Council. Some 56 percent is owned by the private sector and 44 percent is controlled by the government and the foundations. Let me give few examples. For instance, our agriculture is completely controlled by the private sector, which is over 20 percent of the economy. Or, housing construction is in the hands of the private sector. Most of the trade, both domestic and with foreign countries, is in the hands of the private sector. We have more than 300 industrial towns and complexes, which are run by the private sector. From now on the share of the government will be reduced. We believe that the 44 percent should decrease dramatically. Only a little will remain in its hands because the private sector has been allowed to take part in all economic sectors.

Q. There were two recent attempts to allow foreign investment in Iran, one was the airport and one was the cell phone company, and both met stiff opposition and the contracts were either reversed or reduced. What would you do about that kind of opposition to foreign investment?

A. There was no legal justification behind the opposition. One faction was against them in Parliament. The cell phone contract was given to the same company. The argument was not against foreign investment. Those who were against the contract did not believe it was right to allow a foreign company run the most important airport in the country.

Q. But doesn’t that make people worried about investing here because they are not sure if there will be opposition?

A. We will do our best to prevent the occurrence of such things. We will enter this arena with better planning and better decisions.

Q. How do you feel about Iran producing nuclear fuel and the suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons?

A. We have the right to do it under regulations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And they have an obligation to help us. And we will pursue it. The suspicion they say they have can be investigated. They can come and see for themselves and they will find out that there is no room for suspicion. If there is good will, they will soon find out that Iran has no intention but to have peaceful nuclear technology.

Q. Most people I talked to said Iran should get nuclear technology for electricity and weapons were counter to the teachings of the Islamic religion. But one man I spoke with said Iran should have nuclear weapons because you are in a dangerous part of the world. What do you think about that?

A. I don’t believe we should have nuclear weapons because under no circumstances would we ever be prepared to deploy them. You know Americans have had a guilty conscience for generations because their country used nuclear weapons. Islam does not allow us to eliminate masses of innocent people. We believe the world should be purged of nuclear weapons. This is the direction of our efforts.

Q. Some say Iran might not want to have them but wants to get close enough, like Brazil or Japan, so if there was ever threats against you they can use it. What do you think of that?

A. This is part of the suspicion and is an allegation. I say we do not want them at all, and that means we do not want to be close to producing them.

Q. Why is nuclear fuel such an important issue?

A. Nuclear technology is not limited to the fuel cycle. It can have benefits in may fields such as agriculture, industry and many other fields. Generation of electricity and the fuel cycle are just two of them. You know that Mr. Bush recently announced that he intends to build another 100 nuclear power plants. If our population is one-fifth of that of the United States, we must have the right to build 20 nuclear power plants. How come you can have that right and we cannot?

They (the U.S.) will build them and they are not afraid of the opposition because they have no choice. Very soon fossil fuels will run out. Global consumption is high and the world will be faced with an energy crisis. I hope the industry of ether and will take the place of nuclear energy. In that case, there will be no more military concerns.

Q. Do you feel the U.S. and Iran are negotiating indirectly through the talks?

A. Yes, these negotiations took place over the nuclear talks, plus cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Q. Is it pushing forward the day when there will be relations?

A. It is laying the ground for it. The Americans were very happy with the cooperation with Iran over Afghanistan and Iraq, which helped normalize the situation in both places.

Q. How much of a priority is it for you to establish relations with the United States?

A. It is not a priority for us, but the current state is not reasonable either.

Q. So would you like to change it?

A. It cannot be one-sided. Both sides should make an effort. I think because the Americans did wrong to us, they should take the first step.

Q. They think there is a hangover from the hostage crisis. Do you think you will ever get beyond that?

A. Because they do not want to review the era before the hostage crisis. The U.S. supported the Shah during our struggles against him and was not good to us. The U.S. overthrew Mosadegh’s regime (in 1953) and brought the Shah back to power. And it put pressure on the Iranian people for over 20 years. The U.S. officially apologized for it eight years ago.

Yet, after the revolution, thousands of Americans lived here and they all returned safely with all their belongings. Whoever wished to stay, could stay. But the U.S. Embassy soon became a center for the counterrevolutionary forces, which were enemies of the revolution. Plus they insulted the Iranian people by allowing the Shah to enter the U.S. The Iranian people were angry and the students took such an action. If you look at these events, you cannot say it was Iran which took the first step.

Q. Why do you think the two countries are locked on that period?

A. Yes, I believe we must not remain frozen in the past. But the U.S. should show its goodwill because we have seen hostility from the U.S. It has to take certain steps so that the Iranian people would know the U.S. is serious about having relations with Iran. I have said in the past, when I was president, that one good gesture would be for the U.S. to release billions of dollars worth of our assets. They have been there for over 30 years. We deposited $11 billion in an account called foreign military service, from which we purchased goods from the U.S. A small portion of the goods were imported into Iran. The major part of the contracts were canceled and the money was kept there. The U.S. used to get oil from us and deposit the money in this account. It could automatically withdraw from the account as well.

Q. In a congressional hearing last week, Mr. R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, gave a long list of allegations against Iran. What is your reaction to his list?

A. These are a set of allegations the Americans have leveled against us. Our list against the U.S. is longer. When it comes to human rights, the U.S cannot be an advocate of human rights when it has a record of torture in the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. When it comes to democracy, it cannot advocate democracy because it supports the most dictatorial Arab regimes which have no Parliaments. When it comes to peace, it cannot support it when it waged war against other countries despite the decision of the United Nations. When it comes to fighting against terrorism, it cannot talk about it because it created Al-Qaeda and allowed it to operate in the region. It cannot claim that it fights against terrorism when it supports the Mujaheedeen Al-Khalq, the group which it has listed as a terrorist group. When it comes to the right of people, a country that has made nine million Palestinians homeless cannot advocate the rights of people. It is over 50 years that Palestinians have become hostages to the decisions of Americans. Pay a visit to Palestinian refugee camps and see for yourself. There are five million refugees, who have the worst of life and have lost their belongings to those who have come from Europe and other places to their land. So, if one can level accusations, our list is much longer.

Q. In the Arab world, the governments have good relations with the U.S. but their people do not like America. But Iranian people like the United States even though the government has bad relations with the U.S. How can you explain that?

A. Maybe one reason is the Palestinian issue which the Arab people have a greater sensitivity about and the other one is the situation the U.S. created in Iraq. The reason is because the U.S. supports Arab dictatorial regimes. But in Iran the U.S. has this serious problem with Iranian people as well. Those who express such interests say that the United States is an influential country with large industries, an advanced country with good products and these sorts of things. But there is a larger number opposed because of this hostile attitude of the United States.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home