September 19, 2012 7:38 pm

Iran underlines ‘right’ to nuclear energy

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani attends a press conference in Tehran©AFP

Military action against Iran would be “highly costly” for the US and threats issued by Mitt Romney as he tries to become the next American president are campaign rhetoric only and can be largely ignored, Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian parliament, has told the FT.

Mr Romney has sought to portray himself as much tougher on Iran than President Barack Obama and more sympathetic to Israel’s concerns. But Mr Larijani is unimpressed, saying the Republican candidate has the “little bit of wisdom” needed to understand the consequences of waging war on the Islamic Republic.

Speaking in his office building in Tehran, the Speaker of the Iranian parliament lambasted US policy in the Middle East as a catalogue of failures and said it made little difference who was in the White House. “It is political systems in the US which make decisions, not individuals,” he said. “Mr [Barack] Obama swept to power and made promises which were not followed by actions. So, I do not think significant changes can happen.”

“What did he do for Palestine? Did not he go to Turkey and Egypt and promise to protect the rights of Muslims? [But] we have not seen any action to back up his promise of change. The Americans supported Hosni Mubarak [of Egypt] until his final moments [in power]. The same with Tunisia’s Ben Ali and in Yemen [with Ali Abdullah Saleh].”

Mr Larijani, 54, was Iran’s top nuclear negotiator in 2005-07, leaving his post after a row with Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the fundamentalist president. He is seen as espousing a more pragmatic view of foreign policy than the president and he is part of the group that has sought to undermine Mr Ahmadi-Nejad in his internal power struggle with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a sign of the vast potential for misunderstanding between the US and Iran, estranged for more than three decades, Iran has brushed off Washington’s attempts to persuade Israel not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, even though disagreement over Iran have led to growing and increasingly public tensions between the two allies.

Iran insists Israel would not dare to attack Iran’s nuclear sites without co-ordinating with the US government. Iranian retaliation would, therefore, target both countries.

He said the success of nuclear talks with the six major powers – US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany – which faltered after three rounds, depended on Washington’s willingness to hold sincere discussions.

Iran returned to the negotiating table following an escalation in American and European sanctions, which have badly hit its economy and reduced its oil exports. But the parties were unable to agree even a limited deal that would curb its production of 20 per cent uranium, which is now at the centre of international concerns.

Mr Larijani blamed the lack of progress in the talks on western adversaries. He said the negotiations would be helped if Washington put its public statements on recognition of Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy into writing.

“I assure you that these talks can be successful and help create more security in the region. But if they try to dissuade Iran from its rights to have peaceful nuclear technology, then they will not go anywhere – before or after the US elections,” he said.

“Many times the US president or secretary of state have said they recognise Iran’s right to nuclear energy. So, if [they] accept this, write it down and then we use it as a basis to push forward the talks . . . What they say during the talks is different from what they say outside the talks. This is a problem.”

Some western officials fear that Iran will now step up its nuclear activities, raising the level of enrichment above the current 20 per cent and closer to weapons grade. Mr Larijani repeated Iran’s position that it was interested only in “peaceful technologies”, adding: “We do not need [20 per cent enriched uranium] now. But if we need [it], we may [produce it]. Or if we can buy it from other places, then we will not produce it.”

He also said Iranian leaders had not discussed withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty, even though “there is this serious question” among Iranian “intellectuals” about the benefits of remaining a signatory to the treaty at a time when international pressure to scale back its nuclear programme continues to mount on Tehran.

“The Israelis did not join the NPT and they do not recognise the IAEA,” he said. “They are doing what they want – producing nuclear bombs, and no one questions it.”

As for his own political ambitions, Mr Larijani refused to be drawn on whether he would run for president once Mr Ahmedi-Nejad’s second term was up. “[I have] no plans yet,” he said. “There are various politicians . . . who are preparing [for the elections] and I am watching to see who is more successful.”

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