There are growing signs that Israel’s government may bomb Iran’s nuclear research installations, against the wishes of President Barack Obama. Although other newsletters and blogs are presenting the arguments against this, we need to hear from the Iranians themselves. To fill that gap we present here, with permission, a portion of the televised discussion on November 18, 2011 between Charlie Rose and Mohammad-Javad Larijani, an Iranian politician, cleric, and academic. Larijani is the head of the human rights council in the judiciary and a top adviser to the Supreme Leader. Additionally Larijani has been the Director of Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in Tehran. Previously, he has been a Majlis representative and the director of Majlis Research Center, and a Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.1
CHARLIE ROSE: IAEA says it has credible information that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. Tehran has rejected the findings and insisted that its program is peaceful. The report has intensified the debate over Iran and could deepen its international isolation. Joining me now is Mohammad Javad Larijani. He is the head of Iran’s human rights council and the judiciary. He is also a close adviser to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei. I am pleased to have him back at this table. Welcome.
MOHAMMAD-JAVAD LARIJANI: Thank you. Glad to meet you.
ROSE: I want to first talk about the nuclear issue. The IAEA says it has credible information gathered from the Iranian documents and other sources, including Russian scientists, that suggests there are ongoing activities to develop an explosive device.
LARIJANI: Well, as Iran explained before, the evidence that is cited by the agency is an old laptop gathering of different pieces which none of them could be considered a document in the professional sense and four years ago it has been put to Iran by the agency and Iran explained in detail and it was considered by the agency an acceptable answer. But it is interesting that the whole thing again has been revived.
ROSE: They are saying these are new documents and there is new information here, not old information.
LARIJANI: Well, “information” and “documents”—they have professional meaning in the agency’s vocabulary. Anybody could pass on a piece of information, but the agency should create documents. Countries can claim a lot of things against each other. No single document, in the professional sense of the agency, indicates that Iran is leading, or was attempting, to build a bomb. This is absolutely true.
ROSE: But they read it differently. The IAEA reads it differently, and they say there is.
LARIJANI: Well, in fact, the agency has plenty of difficult time to convince others that this argument is relevant. Well, suspicion is blown in this case, and a lot of interest —well, let me get to the crux of the matter. The United States of America, with a number of countries in Europe, they are spearheading a wave of hostility and pressure on Iran. They use any pretext here and there.
ROSE: They make no question about that—that they are imposing sanctions as much as they can. They are trying to get other governments, including the Chinese government, to restrict their trade and commerce with Iran. That’s a clear US policy.
LARIJANI: I just want to make the point that as far as our nuclear energy program is concerned, nothing new is happening. This is the old and the ongoing strive of Iran to develop its nuclear technology for a variety of uses. None of them are military. It is open to inspection. The agency already visited several times Iran. The cameras are there. This is one issue. The other issue—how to make it a vehicle of pressure on Iran, which unfortunately is using these UN mechanisms quite often.
ROSE: Is it in your interest to convince the IAEA and the United Nations and the United States and other countries, including Russia and China, that you do not have a program?
LARIJANI: Well definitely. I mean, negative proofs are usually more difficult than positive proofs. Positive proofs, you just show that you have it, but negative proofs impossible sometimes to tell them why you don’t have it. In an interview a gentleman asked me, “Why you are not opening all the country for inspection?” What it means for such a vast country? As a joke I said, “Well, they can start with my bedroom.”
ROSE: They don’t want to go to your bedroom. They want to go to certain sites that they would like to look at and they have asked permission again. Dr. Yukiya Amano has asked permission to come back with a group of people from IAEA. Is it in your interest?
LARIJANI: Definitely, but they want to…
ROSE: But he hasn’t been invited.
LARIJANI: So the point is, when they claim that they want to visit a site they should at least justify it for us. Why they want to visit? They should give justification. We are also suspicious of the activities of the agency.
ROSE: You’re suspicious of the IAEA?
LARIJANI: Oh, definitely. There is no confidentiality in the [works or rules] of this agency.
ROSE: You don’t have confidence?
ROSE: The information they have is not confidential?
LARIJANI: Oh, they can leak it to everywhere, the same way they have done it before. So we should have justification. They cannot just point their finger and say, “Okay, I want to visit this point.” They should give us justification and notification.
ROSE: They want to look at those sites.
LARIJANI: They cite information that they got it from others, never relieve [releasing?] that information to us. If they don’t relieve the information to us, it doesn’t have any value to us.
ROSE: So it would be sufficient to you if they would show you the information they have and then you’d…
LARIJANI: Definitely, yes.
ROSE: You might allow them to come.
LARIJANI: Oh, definitely.
ROSE: If they show you the information they have about your activities you will invite them to come?
LARIJANI: Yes. Definitely.
ROSE: The other question that comes up is this meeting that is going to take place and a vote that’s going to happen. Clearly there are not going to be more sanctions because the Russians and the Chinese have said no. The Russians said no; the Chinese said they’ll abstain. There’s a vote in the Security Council to put on more sanctions. There’s also a vote to express deep and increasing concern and that seems to reflect a growing opinion.
LARIJANI: Well, growing opinion is not with the barometer of the Security Council. In the agency itself, all the Non-Aligned Movement has stated very openly, very clearly, that they are not happy with that position. They are not satisfied with the level of acquisition; they consider the Iranian effort a safe effort within the NPT, so if the number counts, I would say with confidence that the majority of countries in the world do not share the United States’ position.
ROSE: Not just the United States. There is Western Europe as well.
LARIJANI: That’s true but the world is not the West. I want to say that if you’re talking about world opinion, we do have the world opinion with us, even if it is not translated in the decision of the Security Council.
ROSE: Do you believe that the world opinion is that it does not want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon?
LARIJANI: Including Iran itself.
ROSE: Including Iran. Iran itself does not want to develop a nuclear weapon?
ROSE: So the question of world opinion is whether Iran has a program or not?
ROSE: A clear, focused, ongoing program to develop a nuclear weapon.
ROSE: Was there a program that stopped in 2003?
LARIJANI: No. This is absolutely not correct. We were happy to hear that because partially the American intelligence report considered that Iran, at least from that time on, doesn’t continue that. But even before that, we never had that program. Well, I mean, our activity is so open and—
ROSE: No it’s not. Clearly you know better than that! It’s not open.
LARIJANI: It’s quite open.
ROSE: Hidden! It was hidden. You acknowledged it was hidden.
LARIJANI: No. The problem was that—
ROSE: The enrichment was not disclosed and it only came out because you finally acknowledged it, to the surprise of the—
LARIJANI: No, the point was the difference between the reading the texts. Whether the moment that we put the fuel for the enrichment there we should get the agency to know or, the agency said no—from moment number one, that you decide to do that you should inform us. We were of the belief that we’re not obliged to report to the agency unless we put the uranium in the centrifuge or the whole system. Based on this idea, which a number of countries share with us, unless before that we should not disclose, but before you charge the centrifuge it is just a piece of metal until then. This is a difference in the semantics of it.
ROSE: What would you recommend be done in order to show clearly that there is no program? Yet you have a right, and the United States recognizes this, to develop enriched uranium for peaceful uses, including medical. How do you get past this distrust and the evidence that the IAEA says it has?
LARIJANI: Well the distrust is mutual from both sides at least. I believe sincerely that the United States of America definitely knows that we are not after the weapon. This is my sincere belief. But politically they say something else, but anyhow, let us assume that they are suspicious of us and we are suspicious of them. Let us start with confidence, little by little, because confidence doesn’t come wholly and overnight. My equation is very simple: One step of transparency from Iran, one step of cooperation from the United States.
ROSE: Okay, what would be a transparency from Iran and what would be an example of cooperation from the United States?
LARIJANI: There are plenty of modalities you can design. They cannot ask that everything should be — because transparency itself is gradual and it has a lot of meaning. Cooperation also has a lot of meanings. The more we get confidence that nobody wants to deprive us from technological capability on the nuclear area, the more we’ll be forthcoming. Because at this moment, whatever we hear is that why Iran has this technology at all?
ROSE: So you’re acknowledging having not been forthcoming?
LARIJANI: Well, I don’t say “forthcoming” in the sense that the United States more than NPT. We think already we’ve done everything within NPT.
ROSE: Nonproliferation Treaty.
ROSE: But let me stay with this. There was at one time this idea—that Iran could shift its uranium outside and other countries might enrich it and send it back to you for medical uses. Does that idea have an possibility of being resurrected?
LARIJANI: Yes. In fact, this is a good example that you are looking for the cooperation vis a vis the transparency. The whole idea was put by President Ahmadinajad because our fuel for the reactor—
ROSE: Medical isotopes.
LARIJANI: —which has plenty of uses—is going to finish. And ten years ago we bought it from Argentina. So there were several proposals. One: sell the fuel to us.
ROSE: Sell enriched fuel to you?
LARIJANI: Yeah. Twenty percent enriched fuel. They said “No, we are not going to sell it to you.” Well, this is a bad sign. This is not cooperation. They could sell it to us. Secondly, we said “Okay—
ROSE: Why did you need 20 percent? Did you think 20 percent was necessary, rather than 5 percent?
LARIJANI: This reactor works with 20 percent—with a small amount with 20 percent. So the second proposal was: Okay, sell as much as you want to us and let us enrich the rest of it ourselves. They said, “No, no, no. You cannot enrich more than 5 percent.”
ROSE: But then there came the question of Brazil and Turkey.
LARIJANI: Then the third proposal. Okay, sell as much as you want to us and then let us swap. We give you five percent as much as needed and you give us the 20 percent. This was the swap idea, which was a good sign for cooperation. But all of a sudden the United States said: “No, you should give all of your enrichment because we want to clean you up.” The idea that if we have five percent uranium then we are dirty and polluted, I think it’s a very dirty idea by itself.
ROSE: There has been an argument, I think by Graham Allison, and I want to be clear about this, in which he suggested you look at this on an American football field. And if you’re advancing down the field, Iran is about at the 30-yard line so it has already advanced 70 yards. It has 30 yards to go to have a nuclear program on explosive devices. You only have 30 to go. And you can take 20 percent enriched and over a couple of years make it into weapon-grade material.
LARIJANI: This is not a good similarity. Right now, if you ask in terms of real [work] in the field we are 100 percent away from military use. If you ask in terms of capability, hypothetically: Is Iran capable to do that if he decides? Obviously, yes. Any country that has nuclear technology is capable of doing that. I mean, the Germans can do it in two months. The—
LARIJANI: Japanese in less than a month. Where are those?
ROSE: Is that where you want to be, though? Do you want to be exactly where the Germans and the Japanese are?
LARIJANI: We want to be beyond them, because this is capability.
ROSE: But you want to have the same capability that the Japanese and the Germans do.
LARIJANI: It is a natural outcome. If you are advanced in this area of science, then you will acquire this capability.
ROSE: That’s an interesting question. You say, yes, we want to have the capability that Japan and Germany have.
LARIJANI: Beyond that! We want to get even more sophisticated than that!
ROSE: Then you want to have the capability that would allow you, if you decided to take the additional step of making a nuclear device, happen within months. That’s the capacity you would like to have.
LARIJANI: So what? Should we be punished because we are advanced?
LARIJANI: [A person] has the faculty of thinking. And say: “Okay, if you are strong in thinking, you may think in the wrong direction, so close up your thinking.” This is the natural capacity of a nation. How we should be deprived of that? Is there a limit for Iranian advancement in science and technology?
ROSE: So you basically say: We want the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, even though we do not have a program to actually make the weapon. We just want the capacity, which is exactly what the Japanese have.
LARIJANI: Even that’s not the correct wording.
ROSE: What is the correct wording? The ability? The capacity? The materials?
LARIJANI: We want advancement in science and technology related to nuclear area, not directly to the weapon area. Naturally it comes.
ROSE: You want to be at a level—
LARIJANI: If you are advanced in building a good machine, then you can make another machine.
ROSE: The problem comes in the debate because there’s a great fear of Iran having a nuclear weapon, as you know, because it will de-stabilize the region and many other reasons that are expressed. It violates the NPT and all of that. If Iran violates the NPT, so will other countries, as you well know. They worry about that. Do you worry about that?
LARIJANI: Oh, not at all.
ROSE: You don’t worry about that?
LARIJANI: Not at all because the instability in the region is not stemming from Iran. Violating the NPT also is not a big problem for the United States.
ROSE: Would you like to see Saudi Arabia have a nuclear weapon? Would you like to see ——
LARIJANI: Nuclear weapon or nuclear technology? Two things.
ROSE: Okay, fair enough. Nuclear weapon. Would you like to see Saudi Arabia have a nuclear weapon?
LARIJANI: We are a sincere signatory to NPT. We think that non-proliferation is a benefit to Iran and all of us.
ROSE: Would you like to see Saudi Arabia have the same kind of capability to produce a nuclear weapon that you say — capability! If you decide to go that last distance.
LARIJANI: We are an advocate of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons but in terms of developing nuclear technology, for all peaceful uses, we are even ready to share with them our capability. No problem.
ROSE: Okay. How close are you if you wanted today to produce a nuclear weapon—an explosive device? How close are you if you made that decision?
LARIJANI: Well, professionally I cannot answer that rigorously because it depends on a lot of points but I tell you personally that to build a bomb is not a big deal from a technological point of view.
ROSE: Having the material to build a bomb is a big deal. Otherwise you wouldn’t be engaged in this.
LARIJANI: You see, Pakistan already has a bomb, but—
ROSE: Many bombs.
LARIJANI: But their technology is far behind us in a nuclear sense. To build a bomb through plutonium they use a CANDU-type reactor, but we think the area of science and technology of this is so interesting. I mean, why we need a weapon at all? We are so strong in the region. You are capable to deter any imminent threat. Wju we need an atomic bomb? It is —
ROSE: That’s a good question.
LARIJANI: Yeah. We don’t need it.
ROSE: But you do need the capacity to do it. You’ve just said that.
LARIJANI: Capacity is natural. When you get strong, you can lift a heavy weight. This is obvious.
ROSE: I hear you. There is a report that the sanctions are having an impact on Iran. The cost of food is up. Inflation is up. It is having a serious impact on the people of Iran. The food they want to buy costs a lot more because of these sanctions.
LARIJANI: Even if this is true—
ROSE: It is true, isn’t it? Even your own Central bankers—Mamani.
LARIJANI: Why the United States will be interested in putting pressure on our people? Why the language of threat is so interesting?
ROSE: Because they believe that you have this—
LARIJANI: I don’t think so. I think they know that our technology is not toward that. I think their worry is from somewhere else. I think it is coming from the whole Middle East area. American policy in Middle East is stumbling, is falling apart, while their strategic allies are collapsing one after another. They are afraid that Iran is going for fishing in this area, Iran is gaining.
ROSE: Okay, Syria. You are supporting the government of Bashar Assad, correct?
LARIJANI: Well, this is very incorrect reading of our position. We are supporting the movement of the Middle East people toward democracy from Day Number One anywhere in the Middle East.
ROSE: Then how would you describe the movement in Syria?
ROSE: Is it a movement for democracy and is it being put down by the Syrian army?
LARIJANI: The complication is here, that we are against imposing, infiltrating, and invigorating violence in all of these countries. Unfortunately, in Syria, in Yemen, in Bahrain, there is a tendency for the United States and its allies to invigorate violence and incite violence inside. The violence will radicalize those movements.
ROSE: By that definition, do you mean supporting the rebels in Libya, which overthrew the government of Col. Gadhafi? Is that inciting violence?
LARIJANI: No, support is one thing but to enter in military affairs is another one.
ROSE: Okay, but I am asking a specific case. Take Libya for example. Was that the wrong policy to protect the rebels and prevent, in the beginning, a massacre in Benghazi?
LARIJANI: The number of people killed, even with the NATO support, may equal the same way if we let the people themselves, because it was the rebels who won. If NATO did not enter this game, I think they would have been victorious as well.
ROSE: They are not so sure. The rebels.
LARIJANI: Well, the rebels, if you read them right now, definitely they are happy that somebody helped them.
1 Biography of Larijani at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Javad_Larijani