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State Department's Burns Condemns Iran's Foreign, Domestic Policies

By David Shelby, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns strongly condemned the Iranian government for its defiant pursuit of nuclear capabilities, its support for terrorism and its human-rights violations, and urged the international community to reassess its strategies for dealing with the Iranian regime.

In a November 30 speech at Johns Hopkins University Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, Burns said, “In coordination with our allies and our friends around the world, the United States seeks to isolate Iran.  It seeks to promote a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  It seeks to expose and oppose Iran’s support of terrorism.  And it seeks to advance the cause of democracy and human rights within Iran.”

Burns said that no one in the international community has serious doubts that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons’ capabilities.  He asked why Iran would hide aspects of its nuclear program from the international community, deny the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to its facilities, defy IAEA demands regarding its program and pursue casting and machining technology specifically related to nuclear weapons manufacturing if its intentions were limited to civil nuclear energy production.

In August, Iran unilaterally withdrew from negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, collectively known as the EU-3, aimed at providing Iran with alternatives to developing the nuclear fuel cycle.  The nuclear fuel cycle can be used to produce nuclear energy for power plants as well as weapons grade uranium.  Upon withdrawing from the negotiations, Iran restarted uranium conversion at its Isfahan nuclear facility in violation of its commitment under the November 2004 Paris Agreement with the EU-3.

Burns called on Iran to return to discussions with the EU-3, saying, “If Iran does not do so, then it will face at a time of choosing by the international community, a [U.N.] Security Council debate, and that debate will support and reinforce the work of the IAEA.”

The IAEA chose not to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council at its November 24 meeting in order to allow Russia an opportunity to negotiate alternative arrangements with the Iranian government, but Burns said Russia’s diplomatic initiatives have met with a cool reception so far in Tehran.


Burns also condemned Iran for its continued support of international terrorism in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories and expressed concern at reports that Iran may be supporting insurgent activity in Iraq.  He also said that Iran is providing safe haven to al-Qaida operatives and urged Iran to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, which calls on all nations to deny safe haven to terrorists.

The under secretary condemned the Iranian government’s human-rights abuses “including summary executions, disappearances, torture and other inhumane treatment.”  He said that these abuses have drawn severe international criticism, noting that the U.N. General Assembly has adopted resolutions for the past two years deploring Iran’s treatment of its citizens.

Burns expressed particular concern over the policies of Iran’s newly elected president, Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad.  He said Ahmadi-Nejad’s confrontational policies have served to isolate Iran even further.  In particular, he criticized the president’s defiant speech at the U.N. General Assembly, in which he asserted Iran’s right to develop nuclear capabilities despite its rejection of international nuclear safeguards, and his recent speech calling for the destruction of Israel.

“For a world leader to call for the destruction of a nation state and member of the United Nations is simply outrageous, and it is intolerable,” Burns said.

Given this recent turn in Iranian foreign policy, Burns suggested that the international community should reconsider its strategies in dealing with Iran.

“It might now be time to consider a different approach towards this new, more radical and certainly more intolerant Iranian regime,” he said.  “Through its diplomatic contacts and its trade and its investment, the world does have leverage.  And that leverage could be used constructively now to convince the hardliners in Tehran that there is a price for their misguided policies.”

He said Iran’s policy shifts, particularly with regard to its nuclear ambitions, already are undermining its trade opportunities, such as trade negotiations with the European Union, which now have been suspended, and are limiting its ability to attract foreign investment.  He said this is weakening the Iranian economy and placing unnecessary economic hardship on its people.


Burns praised Iranian dissidents and human-rights activists as “heroes,” saying, “There is a clear struggle under way between the reactionary Iranian government and the moderate majority in the country.”

He said, “In vivid contrast to their government, the Iranian people are moving in a positive direction.  We know that the Iranians, like so many other people who lack freedom, desire a more open society, freedom of opportunity, free and fair democratic elections and healthier and more constructive relations with countries around the world including our own country.  Even from the distance our diplomatic estrangement imposes, we see signs of a complex multifaceted movement for democratic change in Iran.”

He said the United States has reached out to the Iranian people through a Persian-language Web site and radio programs and has supported democratic reform efforts through millions of dollars in grants to study human-rights abuses and support nongovernmental organizations carrying out democracy programs.

“Given the clear aspirations of the younger generation of Iranians, we hope that some day, Iran will become a powerful force for peace and democracy in the Middle East,” Burns said.

The under secretary’s prepared remarks on U.S. policy toward Iran are available on the State Department Web site.  

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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