Tehran, Jul. 21 Ė Unlike his fellow
hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ali Ardeshir Larijani does not perfectly
fit the stereotype mould of an Iranian ultra-conservative. His expensive
suit, well-groomed hair, gentle manners and soft-spoken words are a world
apart from the scruffy looks, brusque behaviour and coarse language of most
other scions of the Islamic Republicís hard-line camp.
He has a reputation for being imperturbable. Friends say when an angry
President Mohammad Khatami, incensed with a television programme aired on
Larijaniís orders that undermined his government, ordered him to leave the
cabinet meeting and never return, he left without uttering a word.
This quietness may have even cost him his long-held ambition of becoming
president. Larijaniís languid speech and uninspiring ideological monologues
proved to be no match for the populist style of firebrand Ahmadinejad, who
became an instant star for the fist-clenching, teeth-grinding bearded
Islamic zealots who make up the bulk of Iranís Revolutionary Guards and
It is said that the Supreme Leader groomed Larijani for the presidency, but
in the end concluded that he would be more suited to act in the shadow of a
more extroverted populist.
It would be naÔve, however, to judge Larijani solely by his appearance. His
outward manners conceal the long career of a man often referred to as the
ďfavourite sonĒ of Iranís Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In long
years of service to the Islamic Republic as a senior officer of the
Revolutionary Guards, Minister of Islamic Guidance, and director-general of
the state-run radio and television, Larijani has been a loyal and committed
soldier of Ayatollah Khomeiniís revolution.
Since the recent presidential elections, it has become increasingly clear
that Larijani will be the second most powerful man in the new
ultra-conservative administration. As the confirmed new boss of Iranís nuclear
talks with the European trio and a strong candidate for the Foreign
Ministry portfolio, the lean man with fair complexion from Iranís Caspian
region will be one to watch. This interview, conducted last week, sheds
some light on his thoughts and plans.
The interview was aired on Jam-e Jam television last week
Q. What do you see as the main achievement of Khatamiís government?
A. The advancement in nuclear technology was one of the most
important national gains under his administration. This could be a sound
basis for our technological power.
The second achievement was that the political development that Mr. Khatami
began led to the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad as his successor. This
government was thus able to pick a good successor for itself. Itís an
Q. Under Mr. Khatami, Iran was able to expand its ties with the
outside world. With Mr. Ahmadinejad, will we see a retreat to the past?
A. Iím not his spokesman and itís best to ask him for his views on
foreign policy. But the general policies of the country with regard to
foreigners and our diplomacy, as well as the economic, cultural and
educational policies, are accepted by the entire government. These issues
are discussed in the State Expediency Council and all the various factions
are involved. I donít think the broad outline of our diplomacy will change,
but there may be changes in tactics, speed and professionalism. There may
also be new initiatives in our diplomacy. The new government is not going
to stand idly by. It will want to have a new approach, but this will be in
its tactics and initiatives. The basic orientations will not change, I
Q. If there is not going to be a fundamental change, why is it that
the West is showing a strong reaction? Donít they know that they will have
to put up with this new government for four or eight years?
A. They are after their own objectives. The developments of the past
few weeks are not a coincidence. The way the Belgians treated [Majlis
Speaker] Haddad Adelís visit was an eye-opener. For 28 years, alcoholic
drinks have not been served in functions attended by Iranian officials, so
why does this suddenly become an issue? Or the utterly undiplomatic
position of the Italian Minister of Interior about Mr. Ahmadinejad and the
elections in Iran was completely illogical. They are insulting the choice
of the Iranian people. The Greens held a meeting in the European Parliament
after the elections in Iran and hyped up the question of human rights. Then
a host of issues were raised about Mr. Ahmadinejad, including his
involvement in the hostage-taking of the American embassy in Tehran or in
the assassination of [Iranian Kurdish leader Abdurrahman] Ghassemlou in
Vienna. These were false accusations, of course, but why are they raising
these issues? Because the West was taken by surprise by the results of
presidential elections in Iran. The West did not expect this turnout and
did not expect Ahmadinejad to win. The elections showed that Iranians have
a strong will to pursue their demands, one of which is the nuclear
technology. Everyone knows that nuclear technology is a national demand.
The West is facing a democracy in Iran. There might be bickering inside the
country about the elections, but there was a seven-million vote difference
that cannot be ignored. The West could not overshadow the strong will of
the Iranian people and the democracy in Iran. Now this new government wants
to rely on this asset to pursue the demands of the Iranian people,
including the nuclear issue.
The West wants to discredit the elections and create questions about them,
so that they will be able to challenge the consequences of the elections. But
all this is rooted in the theory that the American administration is
following since Ms. Rice became Secretary of State. She and her policy and
planning chief, Mr. Stephen Krasner, are following the same method of
thinking and they want to roll back the Westphalian Order. They seek to
replace the inherent legitimacy of states with their own idea of
legitimacy. In other words, a state can be democratic, but the Americans
would consider it illegitimate, and vice versa.
Now, how does this translate in the nuclear issue? We have a right to have
nuclear technology, but they say that Iran does not have legitimacy and
competence to have nuclear technology. Who could judge this competence? In
the past, every legitimate state had its specific rights, but now they say
only the states that we consider legitimate have these rights.
Q. How are they [Western powers] going to end this nuclear issue,
regardless of who is president?
A. The West, both Europe and the U.S., think that if Iran masters
nuclear technology, it would enter a new realm of technological prowess and
it would be a great leap and the beginning of a new technological move. So
they want to restrict us from the beginning. They want two classes of
nations: nations that have nuclear technology and can be advanced, and
nations that must be restricted to production of tomato juice and air
conditioners. Why? Itís not just restricted to nuclear projects. If we make
a breakthrough in biotechnology and nanotechnology, we will be facing
similar problems. The West will say access to modern technology must be
limited to nuclear powers. We must know that this issue is at the key to
Our people understand things and very quickly see through the objectives
[the West] is following. You saw that when the issue of Ahmadinejadís
presence in the Nest of Spies [the U.S. embassy] or his involvement in the
assassination of Ghassemlou were raised, even those in the country who are
opposed to his political orientations denied these issues and someone like
Mr. Hajjarian, who is among the reformists, denied it and said they were
there and he wasnít. So they see very quickly what [the West] is up to. The
[West] will gain nothing from this. May be they say we are preparing the
public opinion in the world to step up our pressures on [Iran]. But they
must know this is a national demand and Mr. Ahmadinejad, as someone who has
the vote of the people, cannot resist the national demand and is obliged to
pursue this demand.
If the West tries to block this demand through propaganda, the result will
be that the Europeans will be left out of the game entirely. They were
almost absent from the Middle East before and the nuclear talks with Iran
gave them an arena to take the lead on an extremely sensitive issue. Europe
could have used this opportunity to strengthen its ties to the Middle East,
because itís a question of Middle East markets and the determining role of
Iran in the political scene of the region, which is extremely important. Europe
could sharply enhance its role in the region by having close ties with
Iran. This is an opportunity for Europe that could disappear. Of course, it
also has some benefits for Iran. If the Europeans think of this in terms of
winning and losing, they will make the same mistake as the Americans have
made. It wonít be in Europeís interest to put itself in Americaís league.
Q. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been very reticent so far on foreign policy,
except in that press conference, when a reported asked him about the
European Unionís suspension of the human rights dialogue, and he replied
that the Europeans must come down from their ivory towers and change their
vocabulary. Is it too soon to make conclusions about the future of Iranís
ties with the West?
A. The Europeans have not taken the same position [on the outcome of
Iranís presidential elections]. Mr. Schroeder, for example, took a logical
position and some looked at him with suspicion. Some, like [Italian Prime
Minister Silvio] Berlusconi behaved in an undiplomatic way. Itís not good
to insult a man elected by a country.
Q. With regard to the diplomatic row that arose out of the visit by
Iranís Majlis Speaker to a small European country like Belgium, would it
not better at present time to stop official visits to foreign countries and
be more cautious until the new government settles down?
A. No, I donít think so. Governments come and go, but visits and
talks remain, because a countryís survival depends on its political and
diplomatic ties. You canít live in isolation.
Q. Do you think the nuclear negotiations team will change in the new
A. I canít comment, as this will be the task of the new president. But
Iran has been pursuing a basic approach that says we must have our rights. The
Europeans have said in the talks that the best guarantee that we could have
to make sure you wonít develop nuclear weapons is for you not to have a
nuclear programme at all. That is illogical and Iran rejected it.
My impression is that the new government must pursue the national demand
for nuclear technology, but must make use of all diplomatic tools, as well.
There are indications that compel the new president to resume nuclear
technology in Iran and this wonít benefit the Europeans much. The Europeans
must make use of this opportunity and recognize that the new president with
a huge mandate has to pursue this national demand. If the Europeans
confront us on this issue, they will disappear from the Middle East.
Q. If you take over Iranís foreign policy, what changes will you
A. Principles cannot change, but several sectors of our foreign
policy must change from a tactical point of view. One is the structure of
our foreign service that must become more efficient. The second point is
that we must be able to react more quickly to developments. Sometimes an
incident happens without any reaction on our part, and this harms our
interests like a pest. For instance, we should have shown a much more
forceful and rapid reaction to the flurry of articles in the Western press
that insulted our new president. The third point is that we must take the
initiative in our diplomacy. On Iraq, for example, others want to change the
situation in the region. In the Muslim world, and elsewhere too; in all
these areas, I think it is imperative that we gain the initiative.