The Best Defense

A chat with the Iranian foreign minister: He goes all amiable and reasonable, and wonders what all this fuss is about

By Nathan R. Sherfinski

Best Defense diplomatic bureau

In an hour-long conference call hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi discussed a range of issues including: nuclear ambitions, Syria, and anti-American sentiment. His tone was measured and notably non-inflammatory. 

Salehi, who received a PhD from MIT, described Iran as acting with rational manner in its foreign policy. He dismissed concerns that Iran's nuclear program is intended for anything aside from civilian energy purposes. Salehi stated that Iran having a nuclear bomb would neither make the region more stable nor make rational sense. "Iran's possession of a nuclear bomb would only invite attack and threaten other countries; it would not increase security in the region," he stated in response to a question on the issue. He contended that energy diversification was the sole purpose of Iran's nuclear program. Furthermore, he reaffirmed Iran's position as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Regarding Iranian support for Syria, he reiterated strict opposition to foreign intervention of any kind and aimed to communicate Iran's role in resolving the conflict. "The Syrian people are entitled to democracy and freedom," he said.  He went on to say, "We [Iran] have been in talks with the opposition for at least a year." He contended that a political, not a military, solution is the key to the issue and that Iran puts strong support behind U.N. efforts to resolve the situation.  "We [Iran] are on the same wavelength with Brahimi, al-Arabi, and the quartet of countries," he stated. He did draw a red-line in Iranian support for the Syrian government. He asserted that, should the Syrian government use WMD, then Iran would pull its support for the government and any country that would employ WMD, "...loses legitimacy."

Salehi addressed the issue of anti-American sentiment, saying, "Iran has great respect for the United States." While he noted that Muslims must stand up for acts against the Prophet, he said that, "some went beyond what was expected." He contended his country is opposed to anti-Americanism or an "America-phobia," as he called it. He went on to say, "We [Iran] have no animosity toward the United States."

Nathan R. Sherfinski is a researcher at the Center for a New American Security.

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